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Thursday
Apr182019

From the archive – Joe Jackson and David Hockney

I won't review Joe Jackson's concert at the London Palladium last night because I'm not very good at that sort of thing.

I’ll leave it to people like Neil McCormick, the Telegraph’s chief music critic, who tweeted that the first time he’d seen Joe live was in Dublin in 1979.

That said, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The band played an eclectic selection of songs from Joe’s 40 year career and the set was imaginatively crafted, beginning and ending with ‘Alchemy’, a track from the new album Fool.

They also covered the Beatles song ‘Rain’ which is one of my favourite Beatles’ tracks partly because it doesn’t suffer from over familiarisation.

The whole band was excellent but it’s worth mentioning the drummer who was magnificent throughout. On one song he repeatedly hit his kit so hard he broke several drum sticks, tossing them aside and replacing each one without missing a beat.

Joe played and sang with enormous passion and energy. Between songs however he was chatty and humorous.

The band is in Birmingham (tonight), Glasgow (Friday), Manchester (Sunday), Cork (Tuesday) and Dublin (Wednesday). Click here for details.

Meanwhile, for a forthcoming brochure to mark Forest’s 40th anniversary, I was searching for pictures of Joe and David Hockney at Forest events when I stumbled across the image above.

It was taken on September 28, 2005, and the photo agency has captioned it as follows:

David Hockney and Joe Jackson supporting Forest (Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco) at Labour party conf Brighton

It was taken, I think, at the Metropole Hotel shortly before a panel discussion that also featured Claire Fox (Academy of Ideas) and the late Sue Carroll, the much loved Daily Mirror columnist who died of cancer in 2011.

Earlier that day we had arranged a photo opp for Hockney at another hotel further along the promenade.

Images are still online and as well as pictures of Hockney lighting up and smoking, they include photos of the great man standing next to anti-tobacco protestor Stuart Holmes.

Let me explain.

Holmes is a well-known face at party conferences. He has two main beefs – tobacco and nuclear weapons.

On this occasion he was brandishing a large 'Ban Tobacco' poster outside the conference centre when a freelance photographer decided it would be a good idea to pair him with Hockney at the 'pro-smoking' photo opp up the road.

David took it in great good humour as the pair of them stood side by side with around 20 photographers snapping away. (Hockney was holding a much smaller poster that read, 'Death awaits you even if you do not smoke'.)

Anyway, events took a strange turn when the hotel management decided, with no encouragement from us, to 'protect' their VIP guest.

Grabbing Holmes by the arms members of staff attempted to escort him from the building via a nearby fire exit.

Not unreasonably Holmes took umbrage at being manhandled and there followed a brief scrap while we looked on in bemusement.

The photographers, naturally, kept taking pictures and I was thinking "Oh shit" because I thought our meticulously arranged PR stunt - the arrival of David Hockney for a smokers’ rights meeting - may have been hijacked by an even better story: 'Anti-tobacco activist assaulted at pro-smoking (sic) event'.

Anyway, eight years later Holmes was involved in another scuffle, this time with publisher and broadcaster Iain Dale, that led to Dale receiving a police caution for common assault.

To complete the circle, Iain was a guest speaker at a Forest reception at the 2016 Conservative party conference in Birmingham. It's a small world!

Below: anti-tobacco protestor Stuart Holmes is 'escorted' off the premises by hotel staff at a Forest photo opp in Brighton in 2005. Nothing to do with us, m'lud.

Wednesday
Apr172019

Wednesday night at the London Palladium

Looking forward to seeing Joe Jackson at the London Palladium tonight.

This is my second visit to the Palladium this year. The previous time was in January when I saw Snow White starring Julian Clary, Dawn French and Nigel Havers.

There may be fewer laughs tonight but it's still sold out!

Joe is on the European leg of a tour that began in America on February 5. Over the next three months he will return to the US and revisit Europe before finishing in Tel Aviv in July.

It’s called the Four Decade Tour because it's 40 years since the release of Joe’s first album Look Sharp.

He has recorded 20 studio albums to date and the current tour features songs from five of them - Look Sharp (1979), Night and Day (1982), Laughter and Lust (1991), Rain (2008) and the new album Fool (2019).

I was still at university when I bought I’m The Man, Joe’s second album, because it featured one of my favourite songs, ‘It’s Different For Girls’.

In 2005 I saw him play in Leicester where he shared the bill with Todd Rundgren, and I'm a big fan of Rain, his 2008 album. The CD is in my car and I still play it a lot.

Fool, the new album, is excellent too. Thankfully, when it was delivered by Amazon, I managed to retrieve the CD before the dog could chew more than just the packaging (see below).

(Reissues of two XTC albums weren’t so lucky. The discs survived but not the CD covers and booklets.)

I recommend that you read some of the interviews Joe has given to promote the new album and tour. Unlike many of his peers his responses to questions are always thoughtful and engaging.

Here are some examples:

Joe Jackson Looks Back on Four Decades of Doing It His Way With Anniversary Tour, New Album (Billboard, January 8, 2019)

Joe Jackson on His New Album and 40 Years of Following His Muse: 'I Have a Horror of Being Trendy' (People, February 4, 2019)

Catching up with Joe Jackson (The Current, February 15, 2019)

For the benefit of newer readers, I should explain that Forest’s association with Joe came about as a result of an article he wrote in May 2003 criticising the introduction of the New York smoking ban.

Writing in the New York Times (Want to smoke? Go to Hamburg), he commented:

I came to live in New York to be a musician and a bohemian, but the last time my band played in the city, in April, there were no fewer than five ''No Smoking'' signs in our dressing room. Two weeks later in Hamburg, Germany, our dressing room had five ashtrays. You can guess where we felt more welcome.

In November that year he wrote another article on the subject, this time for the Daily Telegraph (‘Stubbing out? Not if I can help it!):

I’m a moderate smoker myself; I enjoy a couple of cigarettes or a cigar with a drink. But I’m also a health-conscious person and over the past few years I’ve done extensive research into all sides of the smoking issue. I’ve concluded that smoking is risky, but not as dangerous as zealous officials and anti-smoking activists would have us believe.

More to the point, I’m convinced (as are many reputable scientists) that the danger of “passive smoking” is pretty much a hoax, with dodgy statistics manipulated and exaggerated with the express intention of stigmatizing smokers and scaring the hell out of everyone.

In 2004 he wrote and released a song, ‘In 20-0-3’, that was written “to send up Mayor Bloomberg and the New York smoking ban, but also to help those fighting to get the ban repealed and to prevent similar bans elsewhere.”

Around the same time he went head-to-head with Prof John Britton, a leading anti-smoking campaigner, in the Guardian, challenging Britton to provide evidence that passive smoking is a serious health risk.

The ‘extensive research’ Joe referred to in his Telegraph article was the basis of a wonderfully written essay, ‘The Smoking Issue’, published by Forest in 2004. An updated version, ‘Smoke, Lies and the Nanny State’, appeared in 2007.

Meanwhile, at the 2004 Labour party conference in Brighton, Joe was invited to share a platform with Secretary of State for Health John Reid at a fringe meeting on the Sunday night. (I remember it well because I was in the audience.)

Coinciding with the conference, Joe wrote a letter to The Times criticising the Labour Government’s plan to ban smoking in public places. Signatories included Stephen Fry, Bob Geldof, Simon Cowell and David Hockney.

According to the paper (Pro smoking lobby decries ‘hysterical’ ban):

Some of Britain’s leading artists, playwrights and entrepreneurs have launched a fierce attack on the Government over plans to introduce a ban on smoking in public places.

Celebrity supporters of the pro-smoking lobby say that there is a “climate of hysteria” around the issue of smoking in public and that the risks of passive smoking have been exaggerated ...

The musician Joe Jackson, who signed today’s letter, said that anti-smoking groups represented a “fanatical fringe”.

He said: “There are those of us who are sick and tired of being abused for indulging in a legal pleasure. We feel that a smoking ban is unjustified.

“David Hockney said to me that people are like sheep and follow whoever shouts loudest. So we are going to make some noise too.”

The following year Joe returned to Brighton with Hockney for a fringe meeting organised by Forest at the 2005 Labour conference. (I've written about that day several times so I won't bore you again.)

On another occasion I remember listening to Joe on the Today programme then switching stations to hear him interviewed moments later on Five Live Breakfast.

Media appearances like that frustrated the hell out of him because he felt he wasn't given enough time, or the presenters didn't take him seriously.

No-one however did more to fight the smoking ban and we will always be immensely grateful.

The fact that I like his music is both a coincidence and a bonus!

Below: Joe’s new album Fool after a close encounter with my dog

Tuesday
Apr162019

Fleabag - the importance of smoking to plot and characterisation

A week after the final episode, the short-lived but perfectly formed Fleabag continues to attract admiring comments.

Like many people I was aware of the first series, broadcast in 2016, but I hadn’t watched it.

Instead, when series two began last month, I caught the first episode and that motivated me to watch season one on BBC iPlayer.

Then, as season two played out, I watched it religiously (no pun intended) every week.

The final episode was everything most reviewers have said it was.

There is one thing however that has not been commented upon, to the best of my knowledge, and it’s this:

The role of smoking in both characterisation and plot.

I can see some people rolling their eyes but bear with me.

I haven’t done an in depth analysis so I can offer only three examples, but they are important ones.

Fleabag, the leading character played by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, is a smoker.

In episode one of series two we see her in a dark alleyway outside the restaurant where her family (and a priest, played by Andrew Scott) are enduring a socially awkward dinner.

She is outside the restaurant leaning against a brick wall smoking a cigarette when she is joined by the priest who grins and says, “Fellow smoker. Do you have a spare one?”

“Sure,” she replies.

She gives him a cigarette, then lights it.

“So do your family get together much?” he asks.

As he is saying this she walks off without another word.

“Fuck you then,” says the priest.

She turns. He smiles. She returns his smile. No more is said and she returns to the restaurant.

This is their first direct engagement and it’s clear (if we didn’t know it already) that a clandestine relationship will play a major part in the rest of the series.

Later in the same episode she is joined by her father (Bill Patterson) with whom she has a loving but uncomfortable relationship that isn’t helped by his forthcoming marriage to her dreadful stepmother-to-be (Olivia Coleman).

Her father explains his presence outside the restaurant by muttering “Just a breath of air”. When she offers him her cigarette he declines. “No thanks.”

[Spoiler alert.]

Fast forward to the final episode and what one might call the denouement.

After her father’s wedding, which is conducted by Scott’s priest, Fleabag stands on the steps of the house, alone, smoking.

She is joined by her father. “Oh, there you are,” he says. They look at each other and laugh.

She offers him her cigarette. “Oh, fuck it,” he says, and this time accepts.

Inhaling deeply, he returns the cigarette. “Thank you."

The moment is important because it brings them together.

In the final scene at the bus shelter neither Fleabag nor the priest smoke. Perhaps that was an indication they were both moving on or perhaps it wasn’t important and I’m reading too much into it.

The point is, at no stage did the characters’ smoking feel gratuitous. It seemed entirely normal. Not just normal, it was an essential part of both plot and characterisation.

If tobacco control activists like ASH get their way, however, scenes like that could be banned from TV and film - or given a rating that prohibits even older teenagers seeing them.

My other point is this. Fleabag has been lauded, rightly so, as one of the best UK comedies of all time (although comedy drama might be a better description).

In terms of ‘quit while you’re ahead’ TV programmes, it’s been compared to Fawlty Towers and The Office which also ran for just twelve episodes.

From the reviews I’ve read no-one has mentioned, in a negative way (or at all), the fact that the leading characters, including the priest, smoke.

Nor are viewers marching on Broadcasting House in protest.

The simple fact is that for millions of people smoking is a normal habit. Most viewers (smokers and non-smokers) recognise that and are perfectly relaxed about its depiction on television and film.

In short, any attempt to further restrict smoking on our screens would be an appalling act of censorship and cultural vandalism.

For proof just watch Fleabag. I rest my case.

Monday
Apr152019

Philip Morris wants to 'unsmoke the world'

Philip Morris launched yet another anti-smoking campaign last week.

I post the tweet below without comment.

The second tweet was posted on Twitter by Jason Mills, PMI's chief content officer.

It features rapper Wyclef Jean singing the 'world premiere of the #unsmoke song' at a PMI conference in Miami.

The people swaying while filming the performance on their mobile phones are all members of staff, apparently.

Enjoy. 🙄

Sunday
Apr142019

Bath time

Just back from a short break in Bath.

I first visited the city in the early Seventies. My aunt had moved there from London.

In contrast to a dark basement flat in Kensington she now lived in a Grade II listed apartment with panoramic views of the city.

A year or two later, after my grandfather died, my grandmother moved from Fifehead Neville, a tiny hamlet in Dorset, to Batheaston on the edge of town.

According to film director Ken Loach, who moved to Bath around the same time:

“Bath was dusty and a little shabby when we moved here. It did look its age and you felt its history in its streets and buildings and little alleyways. The sense of the past was palpable. There were some bad modern buildings but there was a patina of age.

“The problem now is that it has been sharpened up for the tourists. It’s too clean. It’s like an old person with Botox. You don’t get the same sense of the past. It’s too clean, too sharp.”

I’m not going to argue with a local resident, even an old leftie like Loach, but the clean up of Bath’s beautiful limestone buildings is, for me, one of the great municipal achievements of post-war Britain.

Previously many buildings in Bath were black with soot and vehicle pollution.

Loach’s other concern is “too much imitation Georgian architecture” which he blames, inevitably, on “destructive” market forces.

Personally I welcome the addition of new buildings that mimic or at least complement the city’s existing architecture.

The SouthGate shopping centre Loach dislikes for its faux Georgian appearance is infinitely better than the Sixties development it replaced although I can understand the nostalgia for some of the buildings that were demolished to accommodate that unlovely ‘modernisation’.

What we can agree on is Loach’s perception that “It feels like the city centre is too geared to visitors” (and I say that as a visitor).

I think he’s referring to the type of shops and all the visitor attractions - including, perhaps, the noisy and sometimes rather irritating street performers - but it’s certainly true that on some days Bath can feel overwhelmed with tourists.

Nevertheless it remains a small regret that I didn’t move to the city when an opportunity arose in the early Nineties.

That feeling has nothing to do with money, btw, but it’s worth noting that the old coach house I could have bought for £100,000 in 1992 was sold last year for £650,000.

Anyway, after our visit this week we drove home via Stourhead, a National Trust property I was first introduced to in the Eighties.

At the time Stourhead hosted an annual open air festival that involved live music (sometimes an orchestra) and hundreds of picnickers who would arrive in fancy dress and sit by the lake, eating and drinking, until it got dark.

It was a wonderfully informal occasion. If I remember a nearby field was opened up for visitors to park their cars.

Today there is a visitor centre, shops and art gallery, and a huge car park. To paraphrase Ken Loach, it feels like Stourhead is too geared for visitors.

Nevertheless it’s still a lovely place to visit as these photos, taken on Friday, will confirm.

Tuesday
Apr092019

In conversation with ...

The Institute of Economic Affairs is hosting an In Conversation event next month featuring IEA director general Mark Littlewood and me.

The event on Thursday May 16 is being held to mark Forest’s 40th anniversary. Mark will conduct the interview which will be preceded by a drinks reception from 6.00pm.

We'll be discussing a wide range of subjects including Forest, the nanny state, consumer rights, and tobacco harm reduction. We'll also attempt to peer in to the future.

I should add that Forest’s links with the IEA go back many years. Our chairman from 1987 until his death in 2006 was Ralph Harris (Lord Harris of High Cross) who was the IEA's first director-general, a position he held from 1957 to 1988.

Forest's two non-executive directors, John Burton and Russell Lewis, have also worked at Lord North Street. John is a fellow of the IEA and Russell was acting director-general for a while.

I first met Mark (above) when he was running Progressive Vision, a classical liberal think tank. Forest organised a couple of party conference events with PV and in 2009 we also collaborated on the launch of the Save Our Pubs & Clubs campaign.

Since then we’ve hosted a number of events at the IEA and Mark has also been a speaker at the Forest Freedom Dinner.

If that sounds just a bit too cosy, don’t worry. Mark and I don’t agree on everything so I’m looking forward to a full and frank discussion.

The event is invitation only but if you’d like to attend email Forest at events@forestonline.org.

Full details:

Event: In Conversation with Simon Clark
Date: Thursday 16th May
Time: 6.00-8.00pm
Guest Speaker: Simon Clark with Mark Littlewood
Location: IEA, 2 Lord North Street, Westminster, SW1P 3LB
Terms: invitation-only

Friday
Apr052019

Golden oldies

This is strangely uplifting.

Ten years ago, 35 years after they broke up, I went to see Mott the Hoople at the Hammersmith Apollo. As I wrote here (Mott the Hoople live – at last!):

I loved the Beatles but Mott were the first band I could call my own because hardly anyone at school had heard of them and no-one bought their records. Even when the band enjoyed a brief period of commercial success ('All The Young Dudes', 'Honaloochie Boogie', 'All The Way From Memphis', 'Roll Away The Stone', 'Golden Age of Rock 'n' Roll') their appeal eluded most of my friends.

In October 2009 lead singer Ian Hunter was 70 and the combined age of the band was 322. But the five-night reunion was a huge success. 'Mott the Hoople storm back to London for a dazzling night at the Hammersmith Apollo' declared the Telegraph whose reviewer wrote:

Perhaps it was daft, witnessing a seventy-year old man with a blond afro singing, “I get my kicks from guitar licks”, but also fabulously empowering, given his heedless dedication to the cause.

The sense of lifelong commitment was heightened during the encore, when the band’s original drummer, Dale Griffin, entered the fray.

Griffin has Alzheimer’s, and had to be led by the hand to a drum kit alongside his substitute for the evening, the Pretenders’ Martin Chambers.

Soon, he was pounding away the rhythm to 'Roll Away the Stone’, grinning from ear to ear. 'All the Young Dudes’, then, was simply breath-taking, with Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott joining in for a verse.

And the rockin’ went on, unrestrainable, deafening, totally life-affirming.

Since then two members of the original band have died and a third, guitarist Mick Ralphs, suffered a serious stroke from which he is still recovering.

Despite that promoters in America and the UK have engineered one final hurrah featuring Hunter, now 79, and two members of the 1974 line-up that was the first 'hard rock group' to appear on Broadway (with Queen as support).

Billed as Mott the Hoople '74, the band is currently playing gigs in eight US cities before coming to the UK later this month.

I've bought my ticket (Birmingham Symphony Hall, Easter Sunday) and initial reviews of the American leg of the tour suggest it will be money well spent.

According to the Minnesota Star Tribune (Long-lost glam band Mott the Hoople parties like it's 1974):

Mott’s performance Tuesday night at jam-packed First Avenue was an unexpected thrill. Who could imagine that a rock singer, two months shy of 80, and his band of grizzled veterans could play with such vigor, swagger and spirit. This was one of the most exciting rock ‘n’ roll shows in a club in recent memory.

Variety wrote:

In Mott’s early days, they were known for their ferocious live performances and the distinct possibility that things might just get out of control. Their show-closing rock 'n' roll rave-outs were the stuff of legend, and in a nod to those glory days the band rose to the occasion with a raucous medley that included 'One of the Boys', 'Crash Street Kidds', Jerry Lee Lewis' 'Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On' and 'Violence' before ending with a pounding sing-along of 'Chicago Rocks' (in lieu of Cleveland).

With the band clearly exhausted, the encore was somewhat brief. "We’re old, we’re sick, and we’re off after this ..." Hunter exclaimed. Hauling out yet another UK fave, 'Saturday Gigs', before concluding with the much anticipated Bowie tune, 'All the Young Dudes', Ian Hunter and Mott the Hoople '74 left the stage with the audience clamoring for more.

Of course, Mott or no, Ian Hunter has been on his own personal victory lap for years, singing these songs all over the world. Catch him while you can, with Mott or upon the resumption of his regular touring regimen. Did we mention he’s 79 years old?

See also 'Mott The Hoople rocks first US show in 45 years at Milwaukee's Miller High Life Theatre' (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel) and Mott the Hoople remembered the ’70s at an exuberant show (Shepherd Express).

Oh, and if you've never read Ian Hunter's 'Diary of a Rock 'n' Roll Star', first published in 1974 and reissued last year, I strongly recommend it.

PS. The New York Times' mostly positive review of Mott's week-long residency on Broadway in 1974 is also worth reading, not least for the final paragraph:

Queen, another British band, opened the bill. This was its first New York performance as part of its first United States tour, and the group made a mixed impression. It was enjoyable enough to listen to, particularly Brian May's virtuosic guitar playing. But Freddie Mercury, the lead singer, is addicted to toothy, unconvincing posturings, and the other three members just stand about limply, unable to provide much visual relief.

See Mott the Hoople at Uris (New York Times, May 9, 1974).

Friday
Apr052019

Establishment elite can sleep easy

Paul Goodman, editor of Conservative Home, has a point.

Where, he asks in the wake of the Newport West by-election, is the voter uprising against establishment elites?

Good question.

Labour retained the seat, the Conservatives came second, UKIP increased its vote slightly but there was little sign of an 'anti-establishment protest', and 'the smaller parties’ totals are derisory':

So, come to think of it, is that of all the contestants. Turnout is down by over a third – from 43,438 at the last general election to 23,515. That’s poor, of course, but by no means exceptionally low: nothing like the 18.2 per cent record low at Manchester Central in 2012.

In other words, for all the political shenanigans in Westminster, don't expect a revolution now or in the future.

It's not the British way and our despicable governing class know that, which is why they will continue to take advantage of our general good nature.

Take my own constituency. Fifty-four per cent voted to leave the EU. Despite that our local Conservative MP has voted consistently to thwart Brexit.

I've heard nothing to suggest he will be challenged or deselected and it's such a safe seat that I fully expect him to retain it at the next election, assuming he stands on the Tory ticket.

Btw, Matthew Evans, the Conservative candidate in the Newport West by-election, is pro-Brexit and a smoker (an unapologetic one) so it's a great pity he didn't get elected.

We need all the support we can get in parliament and Matthew is a familiar face at our annual party conference events.

He's also the proud owner of a Forest ashtray like this one. Need I say more?