Creativity in Recovery.

 

 

Do it Clean.

I got a handful of this, what do I do with it?

I got a barrel of this, what do I do with it?

I do it clean, I do it clean

Echo and the Bunnymen.

 

There’s a reason I’m citing this song from 1980 and it’s not because it’s writer is a poster-boy for healthy living , either now, or then. Ian McCulloch, as far as I know, is yet to embrace sobriety/recovery, not that it’s any of my business what he does or doesn’t do while he and the latest incarnation of the ‘Bunnymen continue to tour the world to decent-sized audiences.

The reason I’ve kicked off the piece with that lyric is due to a moment of melancholic -clarity I experienced at a gig in London a while back. It was Echo and The Bunnymen, but you possibly just guessed that? If not, like much of the following, it possibly doesn’t really matter, there’s no business like show-business and your business is, quite frankly, none on my business eh?

I was sitting in the ‘I’ve not paid to get in’ section alongside other musical vagabonds of a certain vintage, (we don’t get asked for ID when buying e-cigs) when, for no apparent reason, my companion for the evening turned to me and said,

“There’s fuckin’ loads of us…who aint here tonight that should be right?”

“Yes mate, maybe they’re stuck in traffic or couldn’t get a babysitter eh?”

“Nah..Simon, I mean…

And he proceeds to rattle off a list of friends of ours who will never sit in the ‘I’ve not paid to get in’ section, or indeed anywhere else, ever again.

There are four of us drinking bottled water as we watch McCulloch do his thing,

“I do it clean, I do it clean know what I mean?”

Yeah, these days ‘we’ do,

Handfuls of this, bucketful’s of that, mouthfuls of pills, syringes of heroin, pipes, powders and bottles…. ‘we’ certainly didn’t do ‘it’ or anything else ‘clean’ until we seemed to have no choice to either start doing so, or be added to the ‘guest-list’ nobody really wants to be on? The AAA pass for whatever lies on the other side of this mortal coil that requires a messy, untimely death and leaves so much sadness in its wake?

“I hope I die before I get old”

Really?

So the ongoing truth/untruth that you need ‘something’ outside of yourself working its merry way through your bloodstream in order to be creative, has an audience too, and they want to be heard! Come on, make some noise eh?

Quite possibly the main reason for a collective,

“Oh for fucks sake, we WANT you to be fucked up! It’s part of the job and clearly seems to have assisted you in the writing of so many fantastic albums/books. Whereas, being off my face on K aint gonna make this Chia-latte I’m serving you taste any better is it? So be fucked –up for me while I’m working a minimum-wage job and dreaming of getting the record deal I’ve wanted all my life or stop fucking moaning about it! Again, we know this already right?

 

The other common denominator as we stick our fingers in our ears and mumble ‘I’m not listening’ to you, is that it seems much easier to talk about/enjoy the brilliant creativity born of altered-states and staying up late(s) but ask most people to name ‘artists’ whose work they consider better in sobriety and you’re gonna struggle, or are you?

It’s a tough debate for the bottled water and self-help group for breakfast lunch and dinner brigade to win.

Let’s do the obvious first and when I say obvious, I mean really obvious, a list of bands that burnt the candle at both ends, (or as a certain K Richards once said, “took a blowtorch to the middle”) but made some timeless classics, influenced later generations of musicians almost beyond measure and were, well you know, the best there was and most likely will ever be.

Here’s the list then..

  1. Pretty much any major ‘artist’ from the 60’s onwards whose members had someone like ME on ‘speed-dial’ (see what I did there, funny huh?) during their most creative period.

Me? Oh yeah, me, here.

https://www.vice.com/sv/article/kw54za/simon-mason-was-the-britpop-aristocracys-resident-dealer

 

Yep, we know, we know we know…Beatles/Stones/Who/Zep/Lou Reed/Bowie and so on….

AD-BLOODY-NAUSEAM (dictionary definition of which is ‘something that has been done or repeated so often as to become tiresome’) a bit like drugs after a while no?

But for reasons that’ll be clear a bit later in this somewhat rambling missive, here’s my favourite slice of narco-influenced rocknroll from the good old bad old days..

There’s an epidemic, if ya don’t believe me you should take a look at the eyes of your friends.”

Indeed.

 

 

  1. Then we have the counter-argument often from the straight-edge community that they don’t need drugs/booze to make their art.

My personal preference here, again not from a musician currently on a ‘popular’ Spotify play-list but entirely due to the fact that I don’t get asked my age when buying E-cigs either) is this from former Minor Threat /Fugazi, front-man Ian MacKaye.

 

Both songs as menacing, tense, poetic, explosive and downright magnificent as the other. The main difference being MacKaye can probably remember recording his track whereas Peter Perrett perhaps cannot?

Which finds me asking myself, does that even matter?

It doesn’t matter to me, nor I imagine does it really keep anyone else awake at night because it’s not really important is it?  It’s none of our business right?

If you google ‘Famous sober musicians’ you’ll get a non-surprising who’s-who of musical ‘legends’ most of whom I should imagine are as relevant to Vice readers as ‘er, I am actually. Yep, they are all without doubt hugely successful, or certainly have been, but much of that success, was garnered a very long time ago. We know Eric Clapton, Elton John and Eminem are sober, we know they sell-out whatever ‘enormo-dome’ they chose to perform in, but it’s probably true to say their respective sobriety was due to the choice becoming,

‘Get clean or die’, as is sadly often the case and even more wretchedly, a signpost that is often missed entirely as careers and drug habits barrel out of control in tandem.

This whole question of creativity in ‘recovery’ is at first glance somewhat lopsided, the argument is elastic and seems to be incapable of not somehow measuring creative successes against human cost. For every ‘elegantly wasted’ rock-star/rapper/writer burning £50 notes to cook up their gear on a spoon, there’s countless dead junkies who thought their own consumption of substances would buy them a guitar-shaped swimming pool too.

How many livers/brain-cells were harmed in the writing of this piece? None, I’ve been clean/sober for over 11 years, I did enough damage already and before any of you lot say it, Hunter-S Thompson I aint either, but I think my 9-year old daughter  prefers a very much alive daddy, (albeit not so much literary genius), than a dead one.

I spoke to a few creative friends of mine, who are of the ‘recovering’ variety recently, Amy Dresner, columnist The Fix and author of My Fair Junkie had this to say.

 

“The success of addicted writers like Hemingway, Bukowski, Burroughs et al give us creative types the false belief that their addiction is a method, not a problem.

  When I was using, I thought everything I wrote was genius and it was far from it.  What was great about being creative while loaded was being uninhibited and shutting up that inner critic.  But you can do that in sobriety as well. It’s just a choice of self-acceptance and allowing your first draft to be, well, shitty. Dropping the ego and perfectionism and polishing the piece later.  If sobriety has given me anything it’s patience, persistence and a work ethic.

I think that in my addiction I was looking for a high, for transcendence, to connect to something bigger, and I can still do that in sobriety by being creative.  There is no drug that beats the high of being in that “flow” state where you feel like you’re channelling something greater, creating something you yourself could never come up with.  Despite being sober for 4 and half years, I still have the addict’s brain which demands stimulation, instant gratification, risk-taking and highs.  Now I just channel all that demonic tyrannical energy into my writing. And I’m a helluva lot more productive and prolific than I was when I was using because half my time isn’t looking for coke or trying to find a vein or recovering from a bender. But you absolutely do have to be more creative in finding material.  There isn’t that constant barrage of drama and metaphorical car wrecks to mine that comes with active addiction.”

 

You can read all about her ‘research’ here.

www.amydresner.com

 

Another interesting conversation was with Rusty Egan, a man possibly not afforded the recognition he surely deserves for almost single-handedly bringing electronic music to British clubs when he set-up the Blitz club with Steve Strange in 1979. If you’ve ever enjoyed getting spangled to electro, synth-pop, house, trance or whatever, you kinda owe him a nod of your head, but don’t offer him any booze or drugs he’s been sober for over 21 years now. When interviewing him for this piece, it became apparent that, as if often the case, the story I’d gone looking for, was not as relevant as the story I got. Rusty explained to me as we sheltered from a typical English summers day cloudburst under a tree in Brompton cemetery, that, everything he helped create back in ‘the day’, whether it be drumming with the Rich Kids, (with ex- Sex-Pistol Glenn Matlock,) opening the Legendary Camden Palace nightclub or providing the soundtrack to the New Romantic ‘movement’ by spinning previously almost unknown tunes by The Yellow Magic Orchestra, Kraftwerk etc. he did completely sober. He was also, one audition, away from actually being the drummer in The Clash, which is most certainly a ‘sliding-door’ moment few could compete with.

 

I have tried to stay away from the ‘old rocker done too many drugs but clean now’ theme while writing this but over the past few days, my ears have been treated to perhaps one of the greatest comeback stories you might care to hear and it perhaps shapes the final furlongs of this piece in a way, my prose could never compete with.

Why?

Let’s be clear and lets again be obvious, the “My band’s better than your band” and the “That band are shite” arguments will roll for eternity. Yes there are a few bands we can say without question that are ridiculously wonderful, at least to the ears of many people and conversely plenty who only a hearing-impaired mother could love. As I mentioned previously, much of the ammunition lobbed in the direction of the

“But I’m clean now and I’m working on new material” brigade, is that, well you know, when you tour can you not do much of the ‘new stuff please” right?

The reason I put the YouTube link to The Only Ones track, The Beast is twofold, actually maybe threefold, maybe more let’s see.

  1. It’s a fucking brilliant song…about drugs, written while on lots of them.
  2. It’s a brilliant song regardless of anything.
  3. Its writer, now 8 years clean and sober has just released his first new material in a VERY long time and guess what?
  4. It’s also brilliant

If there’s a ‘better’ more menacing, claustrophobic, dirty rocknroll song released this year, I’d like to hear it. Ok there is one but I’ll come to that in a bit.

 

https://open.spotify.com/track/5huAcq3AyucwnSISG7jNar

 

Whatever my own thoughts are on this topic, I defy anyone who digs guitars and lyrics gleamed from hard-won ‘street-wisdom’, (Probably not the kind of street you’d wanna live on)  to not at the very least, appreciate this tune and indeed the poetic beauty of the entire album.

When as a teenager I first heard ‘Another Girl, another Planet, I’d be lying if I said it didn’t increase my already reckless enthusiasm for getting off my tits. No, of course The Only Ones were not responsible for my slide in heroin addiction any more then were The Velvet Underground or Keith Richards. I cannot pretend though, that as I type, while listening to How The West Was Won by Peter Perrett, I don’t have a wry smile on my face, ‘cos he knows and so do I, that if and often it’s a big if, we survive the entrenched, blackened debris of the battlefield of drug addiction, it’s possible to come out the other side without becoming a creatively impotent (ex) druggie-bore.

Another recent recruit to sobriety and creativity is the man, once lauded by the NME (when it actually meant something) as “Our greatest songwriter”

Former Pale Fountains/Shack frontman Mick Head, now of The Red Elastic Band.

Heads own ‘relationship’ with alcohol and drugs is no secret, it’s obvious that anyone who “Can’t remember it mate” when asked about supporting The Who on a tour, was obviously needing more than the formal backstage rider had on offer to get through the day. Long standing fans are now reporting that the former enfant terrible of Merseyside is currently “Off the ale and off the scale” and he is about to release his first album of new material in over 11 years.

Pete Townshend Loves him, Noel and Liam Gallagher adore him and Vice are also about to release an interview with him as part of Noiseys ‘British Masters’ series so don’t just take their word for it!

 

 

Being in an altered state, may well be a constituent part of rocknroll drug/alcohol mythology, but let’s not forget that musicians in the upper echelon of that world, often have various ‘people’ on hand to clear up their mess, pay their bills, book their hotels/studios/rehabs for them. The rest of us mere mortals as the coalface of addiction are left without any such luxury!

Oh, by the way, did I mention that at 11 years clean I’ve also managed to fulfil a dream my younger self, robbed himself of in the pursuit of the sex, drugs and rocknroll (un)holy-trinity?

I finally got to do the rocknroll bit!

I’, just about to release an album, my (our) debut album, something I am ridiculously proud of to the extent it’s entered my personal chart of achievement at number 3 with a bullet, ok maybe not a bullet, perhaps a chai-latte. Top of my pops is obviously my beautiful 9yr old daughter Tabitha.

Nestled at number 2, 11 years of unbroken recovery, so number 3 it is for my band, Hightown Pirates.

Here’s the thing though. The album is a mixture of songs I wrote while absolutely ripped to the gills of all sorts of drugs back in the day/night, plus newer material written in long-term recovery. There was no way I would have been able to get the band together and write/rehearse/record the album if I was using drugs, for me, if I’m using drugs, that’s all I’m doing, simple as that.

So while much of the raw material, lyrically and musically stems from dark and dirty periods of my life, there is an equal amount on this album that comes directly from the life I have now, I wonder if when you listen to it, you’ll be able to figure out which is which? I somehow doubt it and therefore think this is as good a way to sign off as any.

 

Adios Senor Pussycat By Michael Head and the Red Elastic Band is released by Violette Records on 20th October 2017

Dry and High by Hightown Pirates is out now.

Q Magazine says about the album:
“Dry & High is a joyous, anthem-laden affair that evokes Arcade Fire ‘s sweep; Blood, Sweat & Tears‘ horns and the finer moments of Primal Scream‘s Screamadelica. These giant, uproarious songs are propelled by huge guitar riffs, Lilly Vasils exhilarating flute and on standout Just For Today, Mason’s shock and awe at still being alive.” **** four stars

In September Hightown Pirates supported The Libertines on their Tiddly Om Pom Pom tour of the UK:
“Meet Hightown Pirates, your new favourite band” announced Simon Mason, lead singer of the Hackney based multi genre ensemble who effortlessly fuse rock guitar with the delightful tones of a flute, backed by a heady brass section to bring you a melee of music which astounds and entices in equal measure.
They sounded like the result of an orgy in the 70’s at New York’s Plato’s Retreat with the members of The Style Council and Jethro Tull it was hard to spot influences amongst the varied musical offerings but that’s never a bad thing.
By the sounds of things tonight… their debut album Dry And High will definitely be worthy of your investment ( MusicMuso )

https://www.facebook.com/TheHightownPirates/

 

 

Take care of yourselves out there boys and girls.

Simon Mason, London October 2017.

@simonmasonsays

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_7826https://open.spotify.com/album/43zTpdIl8YbUV2CbzzJuqe

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Listen Up.

Dry and High. Hightown Pirates

Listen up?

It would appear that there are a few people who are interested in my thoughts on the recent musical exertions of the ‘Chief’ and his clearly, restless and somewhat agitated younger brother as their ongoing sibling rivalry is taken to a new level by the release of 2 ‘solo’ albums within the space of a few weeks.

Let’s get  a few things out of the way first before I evoke the gnashing of teeth from the legions of the faithful and quite possibly end whatever minuscule chance my band may have had of basking in their reflected glory and attendant exposure afforded by a highly sought-after support slot in the future.

(Good luck to my mate Jack Jones and his band, Trampoline) Continue reading

Hightown Pirates studio Diary. July 22-29th 2016, Doghouse studios Lower Shiplake, England.

Hightown Pirates….Dry and High.

Doghouse studios Lower Shiplake;

Oxfordshire England July 2016.

 

Day One; Wake 6am!

Still got bad throat; Yogi tea lemon honey.

Walk to the river listening to The Jams tales from the riverbank.

Stevie G impressions on the 5 a side pitch.

The sound of laughter

Continue reading

Life imitating art, or art imitating Life?

A man walks into a bar..

I say man, I mean deluded, fantasist with too many drugs in his bloodstream and even more in his pocket. There is a reason he is here tonight, but, as is often the case, he cannot see further than the next crumpled-up bunch of notes being shoved in his direction in exchange for the opportunity to talk shit and sweat profusely for £50 a gram.

It’s a ‘sliding doors’ moment, he gets in the right carriage this time and the supersonic train leaves Kings Cross (Water Rats) with him on-board, for the time being at least.

27th January 1994, was there then.

27th/28th April 2016…you coming?FullSizeRender (1)Tickets available here

http://www.wegottickets.com/too-high-too-far-too-soon

Never trust a man in sandals.

 

The following is not intended to change anyone’s mind about anything; sometimes you just gotta speak your truth.

The horror of the Paris slaughter, not to mention other equally despicable acts in Africa have rightly caused yet more outrage. It now appears the UK’s response to this is to drop more bombs, to “Take the fight to the enemy” because, obviously, attack is the best form of defence? Would I have any compunction about putting a bullet in the head of those that carried out that despicable slaughter at The Bataclan? Nope not if the opportunity arose at the time and it meant preventing the death of others. But here’s the thing, the question I struggle to find an answer to. Would I be prepared to execute them if they had been captured? Would I? Would you?

I’m not a politician, I’d like to think I’m higher up the evolutionary scale than that, for sure there’s a new/old kid on the block in Westminster, I like him, but he doesn’t need me to speak for him.  Nor am I a clever man, a Christopher Hitchens with a better haircut. I am not a theologian and you may be surprised to find, I’m only an atheist when I’m in a really bad mood. I’m a parent, occasional writer, part-time show-off, but mostly, I’m a parent.  That means I have by far, the greatest responsibility it is possible to have.  Why? Because it is and also because, sadly I believe it is our children who will bear the brunt of ideological extremism as the harbingers of destruction reach further into the society our parents/grandparents fought and died to protect. Those at the helm may well have blood on their hands and deep pockets filled with the profits of division and greed. I don’t though, neither does my daughter and I suspect neither do most of you who may read this. I’m not part of the problem; I’m not an avaricious politician and I’m not ‘god.’

 

 

I don’t believe in ‘god’, by which I mean the ‘god(s)’ that have been created by, written about for centuries by, appropriated into the same gender as and forced upon everybody else by, man. You know the ones I’m talking about, the badly dressed bloke(s) with the beard, prone to doing the ‘impossible’. If he was really god, he’d have shaved more often, enjoyed a decent pint and asked more women for their opinion before opening his mouth in his testosterone-fuelled revelations. That’s assuming he would have been a bloke at all of course. If ‘he’ was a ‘she’, I’m guessing we’d be looking at a completely different world. No women I know would be prepared to dress as badly as the pope or blow themselves up on the dubious promise of spending eternity in the company of 72 sexually inept virginal men. There would also have been equality in wages and working conditions probably about the same time as the first of our ancestors said,

“Fuck looking after this baby all day darling, it’s your turn, I’m off to hunt a mammoth with the girls, we might go out for a few celebratory ‘bevvies after too.”

What do I know about ‘god’ anyway? Oh yeah, I was made to read the bible at school.  Of course that’s not even half the story though is it? Some estimates put the number of religions currently being ‘practiced’ in the world at over 400.  My entire ‘education’ was conducted within a catholic school system, at no point were we afforded an insight into other belief systems. I’m guessing my religious teachers realised that the somewhat nonsensical curriculum they espoused, would, in-fact be made to look as utterly bonkers as the ‘other’ faith systems the minute any comparison was made. Even my tiny brain can join the theological dots and conclude that, they can’t all be right, so they are surely all wrong?

 

 

As for creationism? When a classmate of mine suggested that if ‘we’ were to believe in Adam and Eve,

 

“Then that means we are all descended from an incestuous relationship then sir?”

He was theoretically-silenced by 6 strokes of a riding-crop, his flippant but astute comment punished by the headmaster later that day. The same headmaster, who years later, was arrested, tried, defrocked and sentenced to a lengthy spell in jail for sexually abusing young boys, his evil practices going completely unchecked by the church for years. This is not the reason I don’t believe in god though, but it was the starting point of my own thinking on the subject, not that this was encouraged of course. ‘god’ knows what I’m thinking right? His intrusion into my ‘thought-crime’ does nothing to persuade me he’s someone worth getting to know. I hate nosey bastards like that, mid your own fucking business eh god?

So yeah, me and ‘religion’ nah, not having it at all.  We didn’t get off to a very good start and I’m still waiting to be shown some proof?

Oh yeah, the ‘proof’ it’s in a book(s) apparently.

So ok, maybe give me just the slightest reason to accept that people who propagate nonsense like this should be in any position to tell me how to live my life.

 

 

1 Samuel 18:25-27

David wanted to wed Michal, Saul’s daughter. He offered Saul anything in order to be able to marry Michal. For whatever reason, Saul wanted 100 foreskins. He told David he needed to deliver that number of foreskins by the next day. David went out and killed 200 men and collected that many foreskins. It was after the fact that he realized he had double the number he needed. Saul was impressed and he gave his daughter’s hand in marriage to David.

 

 

 

That’s about as ridiculous as the time the prophet Mohammed apparently decided to make a few structural changes to the moon by chopping it in half. (Maybe there was no footie on that day?) Said task undertaken on a winged horse obviously so he got home in time for tea and a cuddle with his 9 year old wife too.

The splitting of the moon is confirmed through eye-witness testimony transmitted through an unbroken chain of reliable scholars so many that it is impossible that it could be false (hadith mutawatir).[2]

 

OK, so that’s the slightly low-brow kinda cheap justification for my lack of faith in ‘god’, however if he/she can manage to keep Danny Sturridge Liverpool’s best striker, fit for an entire season, I’ll have a rethink.

If religion was put on trial, I’d like to think no judge and jury, in possession of the ‘facts’, would sentence the world to another second of it, yet alone a few thousand years. It’s a bit like smoking; before we knew how bad it was for us, everybody was at it.

Is it really bad for us though?

I’d say yes for no other reason than it’s got nothing to do with truth and everything to do with the opposite. At what point are we required to separate metaphor from fact? Apparently not until scientific evidence leaves the custodians of religion, no choice but to admit they’ve got it wrong. Then and only after all other ‘escape routes have gone, are we told,

“Ah, ok, the story of Noah is not meant to be taken literally.”

And it’s probably unlikely David collected all those foreskins and Leviticus was just in a really bad mood when he called for the murder of gay people etc etc.

I wonder if made up a few hundred t-shirts with

‘Leviticus can suck my dick’ on them, I’d make a few quid at the next gay pride?

As ‘real’ science advances, religious explanations back-peddle, although it often seems like trying to prise a confession out of a villain whose deeds have been caught on c.c.t.v.

“But it helps me make sense of the world and we need redemption”

Ah, I see, so we’re not capable of doing that anyway?

Oh yeah, the ‘concept of original sin’

Surely we innately know the difference between right and wrong, surely we can figure that out for ourselves?

“No”

“Why not?”

‘”Because it says so in the bible/Torah/front page of the Daily (hate) Mail.

Ah, so we need to follow the instructions, without which, at the very least, an unenviable ‘end’ lies in store for those who don’t.

So live in fear or..?

You get my point right? You can rebrand it anyway you like, but I don’t think it’s good for us, except in tiny weeny moderation, like at a gig or football or… something.

 

So yeah, it’s just like smoking. (Actually, smoking is never ‘good’ for you; it’s just less harmful the less you do it.)

These days, even though it can be a struggle, most people have chosen to confine the fags to the ashtray of history.  It has to be said though, that generally speaking, where people are less able to make informed choices i.e.; ‘developing’ nations, countries crippled by poverty etc. the big tobacco companies continue to expand their empires. It would appear that the masters of religion and tobacco both do well in such places.

(For the record, I’m still sucking on an E-cig, very much a case of progress not perfection.)

I’m convinced that the weather was shite for pretty much the entire duration as religion made its be-sandaled way from the warmer, but almost entirely illiterate Middle East into Europe.

“Do you believe in god mate?”

“Umm, which one? We’ve got a few”

“This god, he’s much better than yours and if you don’t believe me, I’ll fucking kill you ok?”

It’s like playground bullying on an industrial scale..in sandals.

The inclement medieval weather continued as did the need for distraction.

Anyone who has kids will tell you you’ve gotta be ‘creative’ when it’s cold and wet outside. Obviously you couldn’t amuse the barbaric population with an Alvin and the chipmunk’s box set, so Pope Pious and the psycho-monks saw their opportunity and grabbed it.

“Do you want a smoothie and some crisps with your eternal damnation, fear-driven servitude and other assorted fairy-tales children?”

“Can’t we just go to the park and play on the swings daddy?”

“No, it’s raining.”

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward the sky so that hail will fall all over Egypt –on men and animals and on everything growing in the fields of Egypt.” 23When Moses stretched out his staff toward the sky, the LORD sent thunder and hail, and lightning flashed down to the ground. So the LORD rained hail on the land of Egypt; 24Hail fell and lightning flashed back and forth. It was the worst storm in all the land of Egypt since it had become a nation.25Throughout Egypt hail struck everything in the fields –both men and animals; it beat down everything growing in the fields and stripped every tree. 26The only place it did not hail was the land of Goshen, where the Israelites were.

 

 

“We live in Stamford Hill daddy, are we Israelites?”

“No!”

 

Back to being a parent, which is primarily why I’m trying to waste my time and hopefully yours, with this badly written god-bashing piece?

Tabitha asks me lots of questions about religion because we live amongst an ultra-orthodox religious community here in Hackney. My Hasidic neighbours seem nice enough, until they get behind the wheel of a car that is. To be honest, other than their insistence on driving like demented Egyptian chariot drivers pursuing the Israelites into the Red Sea; I don’t know much about them. They do what they do, Tabitha and I do what we do, it’s cool, it’s safe round here and also very quiet on Saturdays. It’s a ‘bit’ weird though, but not weird in a strap a bomb to yourself and blow people up kinda way, certainly not on the Sabbath anyway.

The dark and (bloody) middle-ages were a time when we knew little and killed a lot, in the name of what we knew little about of course. Not much has changed really, back then, ‘We’ just trusted that those people afforded an education in exchange for a life of piety and sacrifice (If you don’t include much of the Catholic Church) as they delivered us from eternal damnation  would not lie to us? Time moved on, the weapons got deadlier as the science got smarter. The better the science, the bigger the death-toll, as previously unassailable ‘truths’ were forced to back-peddle and become ‘metaphors’ rather than facts, at least where those of a progressive mind-set were concerned. Religious literature is not lies; it’s just people trying to make sense of things without recourse to facts. People believed because to not do so was unthinkable, they just didn’t know any better, but we do now. Except of course, for those of ‘us’ who apparently don’t want to accept fact over fairy-tale.

Ah, yes, the thorny subject of facts. We have a timeline these days, a way of framing and making sense of ‘stuff’. Put it this way, if despite everything we know about the age of the earth, fossils, DNA and the last time Liverpool won the league; if after all this you still want to say the world is only a few thousand years old..in my opinion, you’re a fucking lunatic. We have empirical proof, you have David and his 200 foreskins.

Does that offend you?

You can’t criticize any religion for fear of offence.

Ah yes, fear of offence! I’m fairly sure if you are of the easily offended persuasion, you’re unlikely to still be reading this? I happen to think, it’s entirely possible for people to hold religious beliefs and retain a sense of humour. Get over yourselves a bit eh? Surely god would want you to do that?  My friend Niall the Vicar is one such example, although as I’ve told him on numerous occasions, he’s better suited to caring for the spiritual well being of his flock than tickling their (spare) ribs.

I’m a libertarian, which is a posh word for minding my own fucking business and expecting others to do the same. I might not be overly happy about it, but people are and hopefully, will always be entitled to believe in whatever they wish, surely that’s a freedom we have make huge sacrifices for as a country over the years? The theological ‘fly’ in this secular ointment though is this, religion is inherently divisive. Yes you may well find quotes in the texts of the world’s major faiths that urge ‘tolerance’ of other people’s fairy-tales of choice, but here’s the thing; For the most part, when our most basic needs are met, we humans are decent and caring beings. When we stumble across something that makes us feel ‘better’ we like to shout about it. I’d go as far as to say, most of us would want others to experience it too. The theocratic ‘chemistry’ that elicits ‘well-being’ is potent, but it’s really only a placebo. Humans are pack-animals, faith makes us feel ‘part-of’, ‘connected’, and it allows us to belong, which is one of our species most rudimentary needs. We inherently ‘fear’ death because of course that is the ultimate separation. It’s easy to see how the promise of being re-united with those we have loved and lost is such an attractive proposition and a ‘promise’ made even more appealing when our mortal life is so short. Once people are scared, they are likely to believe almost anything. We all love a good horror story don’t we?

There’s no fear like the fear of god is there? Some of the stories contained within religious literature are quite good, although not many of them would get commissioned for a TV series ahead of Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones methinks. I obviously cannot tell someone that their ‘personal’ experience of jesus is not real to them anymore than I could convince a Manchester Utd fan that watching Stevie Gerrard score against Everton is more fulfilling than seeing Wayne Rooney bicycle-kick the winner against City.

Is there a solution to all this, will we ever ‘learn’ to stop bothering a god that doesn’t exist and spend more time getting to know each other?

I sometimes wonder if, perhaps, with some gentle persuasion, those of a more moderate devotion to religion, akin to the ‘social-smoker’ on weekends, might begin to consider stubbing out their habit altogether one day. Of course, those who hold moderate religious beliefs are not the problem are they? Such believers are unlikely to be offended, or to cause outrage over their faith. I’m in no doubt I could attend a concert with my daughter without risking assassination by the alcohol drinking, chain-smoking Muslim shop-keeper at the end of my road. Yeah he believes in ‘god’, but he’s clearly discovered that being human and getting pissed every now and then is equally as satisfying as Friday prayers.  Wherever religion has been handed down as part of a cultural package, delivered by family and community for generations, when it comes under scrutiny, of any kind, it is seen as an attack. Its difficult engaging in meaningful conversation with creationists whose response to unequivocal evidence as to the age of the earth and the rational explanations we have now have for our evolution is a collective “I can’t hear you”.

Why can’t you hear us though? Because to do so would be seen as an attack on your culture? Then maybe the way forward is to begin to try and separate the two? If I had even the slightest idea how that may come about, I’d tell you, sadly I can only hope that people with far bigger brains than mine, try to do so and soon. At seven years old, Tabitha is as full of questions, as any parent would wish of their own kids. She told me there had been some ‘talk’ in the playground about the awful events in Paris last week, but she didn’t get involved because some of her friends are Muslims and she didn’t want to upset them. She told me that B***** one of her closest friends was really upset because a boy had said it was ‘her people’ who had done bad things in France.

“I told her, that what that boy had said, was part of the problem daddy, not her or her family.”

She’s never prayed in her life, she doesn’t need to because she understands ignorance as well as any 7 year old needs to. She finds the world an exciting place dulled only by certain homework she feels does not challenge her and her daddy’s attempts to convert her musical tastes to his own.

I want her to grow up in a world, where she can think, say, dress and ultimately believe what she likes without fear or feeling the need to justify herself.  Oh wait! She already does! Now THAT’S worth fighting for eh?

I remain convinced that she does not ‘need’ religious dogma to be able to experience this in the life she has ahead of her. Her ‘god’ will never be better than anyone else’s because she doesn’t believe in god. She may well change her mind at some point and that’ll be entirely up to her. As a parent, I’d like to think that if I refrain from the implementation of religion ‘belief’ and it’s myopic, primitive thinking, by the time she is old enough to ask the question pertaining to ‘why’ we are here, her mind will be open enough to see the answer. Religion is heavily dependent on answering that question, it dismisses the most horrific human tragedies as a ‘test of faith’, it holds up nonsense as ‘fact’.  History is stained with the blood of the innocent while people kill in the name of god, in the absurd hope of ensuring a place in the ’afterlife’. I hope she concludes that it doesn’t matter why we are here; all that matters is what we do while we are.

I think it was Gandhi, who said,

“If you think you understand ‘god’ you’re probably wrong.”

Which is quite possibly the wisest thing anyone in sandals ever said.

Actually I don’t know if he did because I wasn’t there, either way, it’s a good quote. If he’d been shuffling about being a cool dude 2000 years ago, he’d definitely be called god wouldn’t he?

 

 

 

Peace, love and The Magical World of The Strands.

 

 

 

 

 

“I’m a minor player in my own life story.”

3 nights 4 days of full-English breakfasts and cheap accommodation in the North-West.2015-11-11 16.35.50-1 2015-11-11 18.16.16-1 2015-11-11 22.02.48 2015-11-11 23.36.55 2015-11-11 23.37.50 2015-11-12 08.50.11 2015-11-12 09.21.59-1 2015-11-12 12.05.06-1 2015-11-13 10.21.20 2015-11-13 14.04.27 2015-11-13 19.33.18 2015-11-14 13.42.37 2015-11-14 19.20.54-1 2015-11-15 22.31.49 12193452_10153176473358016_6490668533818053804_n 2015-11-04 19.32.14 2015-11-12 13.38.15

First thing, it’s not the Y.M.C.A, it’s the Youth Hostel Association ok?  I thought it important to mention that before you get a vision of Andrew Winters and I, gyrating to some 70’s disco anthem dressed up as a cowboy or a traffic cop.  However, if you DO want to see what that looks like, we lost a ton of money taking this brief story-telling adventure between these (tale of) two cities, so send me some cash and I’ll see if it can be arranged.

The Kings Arms, Salford Manchester, 11th November.

I feel tired already having expended way too much mental energy worrying during the drive north. This is not due to any potential navigational errors, (Andrew has PRINTED a map!) but more so, the perceived difficulties I may have explaining away the contents of the boot of my car, should we come under the scrutiny of the motorway police at any point. I should point out that I have not been subject to any sort of police attention for a very long time and therefore my anxieties, as is usually the case, are perceived, not real. Truth is, I think I’d actually enjoy attempting to explain to any over-zealous ‘plod that the £1000 of fake money, 200 pills and packets of white and brown powder are just props for the show. Were they to check my criminal record though, I’m guessing we’d have a problem, anyways it’s all good and we arrive safe and sound.

The first thing I see as we pull up outside tonight’s venue is an Orthodox Jew strolling along Bloom Street;  Seeing as I currently reside in Stamford Hill, it momentarily feels like I’m on home turf, an illusion quickly dispelled by a furtive glance at the bar pricelist, we’re clearly not in Kansas anymore Toto.  Back in my drinking/drugging days, I once spent a weekend  getting trolleyed in Wigan, concluding it was cheaper to buy a first-class train ticket and a night in a decent hotel up North and get ‘on it’ all weekend than it was to remain in the capital and do the same thing in my, then, local pub. I once paid £35 for a quick pint in The Westbourne in Ladbroke Grove, although that had more to do with me not noticing they’d covered the cistern of the toilet with Vaseline to prevent idiots like me from chopping out a few lines in bog, than the actual price of the larger. I digress…

We unload the car then retire to the comfort of our YHA accommodation for a few hours before we’re required back at the venue for a brief tech run-through prior to the show. Andrew tells me he’s gonna pop out to drop some flyers off at a local recovery café,

“Don’t get lost” says I as he departs, walking into the backstage toilets rather than the exit.

“I already am.” He replies, we laugh, my nerves retreat, all will be well.

Ah, the show! My show! It’s all about me, of course it’s all about me, except it isn’t is it? For those of you who have already seen it, you’ll understand that it’s more;

‘This is me, but it could have been/ may yet still be about, you too. Or someone you actually do know, once knew, or may yet still get to know.

For those of you who were busy washing your hair/watching X-factor for all of the 35 performances so far, well, you’ll have to take my word for it won’t you?

That last sentence was written by my ego, while I briefly left my laptop unattended and left the room to make a cup of tea.

Was the theatre full? Nope! Half full? Nope! Did those who were there come and tell me afterwards that they found the show, moving, shocking, funny, informative and ultimately inspiring? YES!  Job’s a good ‘un then right?

Let’s tick a few more boxes too shall we?

Do I love what I’m trying to do with the life I’m fortunate to have?

Tick.

Was performing the scene where I describe the events on the night of my dad’s death 36 years ago, on the anniversary of that saddest of days, difficult?

BIG Tick.

While performing the show, does confronting the effect my behaviour as a junkie had on those that loved me, help those who’s loved ones are still lost in that awful existence?

So I am told…Tick.

Did wearing a T-shirt displaying Liverpool FC’s 5 European Cups for the entire 2nd half of the show in Manchester make me giggle?

Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick. (5)

So the first night was a success, I’d go as far as to say, every night we do the show is a success, whether it’s in front of a sell-out crowd, or on a night where people are busy washing their hair or watching X-factor.

Day two.

We are out and about in Salford, first stop obviously the pilgrimage (If you’re a Smiths fan) to the lads club for quick photo opportunity. Andrew had printed off another map which is both thoughtful and useful, were it not for the fact it has become apparent that neither of us can read maps. We find Salford lads club, I pretend to be in The Smiths (not for the first or last time) then we head over to the University to try and persuade some students that they might enjoy a night at the theatre later on. We walk past a sign outside the Old Pint-pot pub which declares,

“According to chemistry, alcohol is a SOLUTION’’

It neglects to say what alcohol is a solution for though, so I attempt to ask a couple of passing students their thoughts on that statement. Sadly, me, handing out flyers of, ‘er.. me, is not sufficient to convince many of them to remove their headphones and make conversation. Those who do stop seem completely incapable of assisting us locate the university’s media faculty, let alone consider what alcohol may, or may not be a solution too. Maybe they’re just too hungover/stoned to care?

We learn, much to our dismay, that despite having one the of most modern studio facilities in the country, Salford University radio station has nobody to run it this year due to a complete lack of interest amongst the student body. Perhaps this is a result of the use of other social media platforms, rather than the fact there are no decent underground/warehouse/free parties requiring radio promotion essential to their existence, like back in the day? It’s a moot point although I suspect it’s the former, at least I hope so, remember Frontline FM or Sunset (808 state) anyone?

Andrew and I find the media/performing arts building, storm the canteen, (in a middle–aged bloke kinda way) deposit flyers and leave in the hope we’ve convinced a few kids to come to the show later. We then head over to the Creation café on Chapel Street, a ‘recovery’ hub of sorts, similar to the marvellous Brink on Parr St Liverpool.

Showtime sees a bigger audience than Wednesday, there are tears, much laughter and a standing ovation as tonight’s show is dedicated to the memory of the Busby Babes as well as the 96, after all, football is never really more important than life or death is it? Post show drinks downstairs in the pub with friends old and new where My Bill Shankly t-shirt comes under a bit of light-hearted scrutiny, then back to the hostel, our work here is done.

Liverpool Bridewell, Friday 13th.

Martin Johnston and I discuss the theme, ‘Can music save your life?’ in front of a few close friends in Paul Fitzgerald’s fantastic bar. The horrific events unfolding in Paris which I only become aware of afterwards, make writing anything about our cosy discussion; seem ridiculous, so I won’t.

Andrew and I return to our third and final night at a YHA, where the mood amongst the guests is, as it must surely have been elsewhere, one of incomprehension, sadness and anger. I’m a proud atheist; I find the whole notion of god, ridiculous, so killing in the name of god? Just fuck off you despicable, cowardly bastards and take your twisted medieval lunacy with you ok?

Saturday 14th November, Palace Hotel Manchester.

Martin Johnston and I have been invited to bring our discussion to the Louder than Words music literary festival, curated by John Robb and Jill Adam. There are some pretty heavyweight writers and guest speakers here and I’d be lying if I said that, by comparison, I don’t feel a bit of a fraud.

I’m far better at ‘avoidance’ than I am at writing. I need to distract myself from the mental cavalry-charge in my head, whose bugles play a medley of ‘Loser’ by Beck and a terrace-style chant of “You’re shit and you know you are”.

An impromptu selfie with the drummer from The Jam and Paolo Hewitt cheers me up and bizarrely gives me the bottle to engage in a discussion arguing the various merits of the Liverpool/Manchester music/club scene with Dave Haslam, Richard Boon and CP Lee. Jayne Casey was supposed to be fighting the corner for Merseyside but sadly is a no-show, so Martin and I, take it upon ourselves to bring some sort of balance to the discussion. The Manc mafia (Haslam is actually from the midlands so my own woolyback credentials seem irrelevant too) clearly want to uphold their end of the East-Lancs rd as the epicentre of all that has ever been good in the North West. MJ rightly feels that their mention of the refusal of Mancunian mill-workers to handle confederate cotton, unloaded on Merseyside during the American civil war, alludes to some sort of ‘scouse racism and a purer ‘Manc socialist ideal. Martin’s brain is much bigger than mine, due to the fact that while I was battering my brain cells with drugs, he was assaulting his own with literature. He points out that in Friedrich Engels book, The Condition of the English Working classes, Manchester comes in for a bit of a kicking too if we’re talking the treatment of disenfranchised people and perceived socialist one-upmanship. I am reminded as to why he was my hero at school. Martin Johnston that is, not Engels, we’re not that old! I somehow manage to make a comment that seems to perhaps win the day when I quote from Paul Du Noyer’s (fab) book on the Liverpool music/club scene.

“Um, yeah, so in his book, Liverpool, Wondrous Place, Du Noyer says that Scouse bands have always had the ability to ‘turn rage into beauty’…what is Manchester’s riposte to this?”

They don’t have a response, nor do they have 5 European cups..We win.

MJ and I do our gig later, it’s well received and with only a few less in attendance than were sitting listening to a bloke who was in The Jam. I have to pinch myself; I’m also getting paid to  talk about The Jam, as well as The Smiths, The Stone Roses, Shack and a bit about drugs too.

Before Andrew and I head south down the M6, we get the absolute pleasure of sitting in on an interview with John McCullagh. I’ve spent much of the past few days discussing/performing themes from the past, McCullagh is very much an artist for the future, it seems the perfect way to end the trip.

I’d like to extend my sincere thanks to the following..

The late Phil Fox, for his encouragement and ongoing ‘presence’ in my endeavours. The Outside Edge theatre company that he set up and with whom my show continues its journey at all times, Siva and Susie, I thank you.

Andrew Winters for taking on the role of manager in all this, Lindesay Irving for helping with the costs.

Martin Johnston, Paul Fitzgerald, and all the (double) good people of Manchester and Liverpool for their continued support.