THE 25-YEAR ITCH

Not that long since, I switched on the TV and BBC2 was showing a Dara O’Briain gig; it was only when the credits rolled at the end that I realised the programme was a repeat from five years previously. There was nothing visually on display to suggest it was that old; the appearance of the members of the audience and the star of the show himself implied it could have been recorded last week. I momentarily imagined it was 1981 and I was viewing a Jasper Carrott gig from 1976; the difference in the hairstyles and clothes would have been so glaring that it would have been instantly obvious this was five years old.

If we were to study photographs of street scenes taken over the last twenty years, I surmise it would probably be difficult to discern which images were oldest and which were most recent; the members of the public caught on camera wouldn’t look much different in any of them. Compare a street scene between, say, 1964 and 1974 or 1974 and 1984, however, and it would be instantly identifiable as to which decade the photos belonged in. Whenever ‘Starsky & Hutch’ was re-run in the mid-1980s, the dated dress-sense of the two lead characters marked it out from another era as much as the sleeve of the ‘Saturday Night Fever’ soundtrack LP did, yet both were from less than ten years before.

Anyone who lived through the 60s, 70s and 80s was given something of a false impression that popular culture was built on shifting sands, a fluid, ever-changing creature that existed in a permanent state of transition – or at least the impression given was that this would always be the case. It hadn’t been before, though. Compare (if you can) family photos from before and after the war; the men have regulation short-back-and-sides and are wearing suits on either side of the conflict; there’s little to distinguish the male figures in the images from the 30s and the 50s. With the women, there are subtle differences in their hairstyles and the height of their hemlines, but it’s not that dramatic. What would soon become ‘teenagers’ resemble Mini-Me versions of their parents; by the beginning of the 70s, it would be the parents looking to their children for tips on how to dress.

From the 60s onwards, the people mirrored the trend-setters in a way that was new. The death of haut-couture that was brought about by the likes of Mary Quant and Barbara Hulanicki took fashion from the exclusive houses of Paris and Rome and passed it down to the high-street – affordable for the masses because the masses had produced the trend-setters, whether Twiggy or Brian Jones. The growth of mass-media via television also brought this into living rooms and out of the pages of ‘Vogue’, no longer elite or expensive. It was social mobility’s sartorial incarnation and what had once been seen as the province of the ‘poofy’ and effeminate eventually reached defiantly masculine professions such as mining or football – all in the space of less than a decade.

From the dandified poseurs of 1968 to the scruffy hippie hobos of 1971, from the platform-heeled Glam wannabes of 1973 to the spiky-haired and safety-pinned Punks of 1977, and from the floppy-haired New Romantics of 1981 to the football hooligan sportswear chic of 1985’s Casuals, the pace of life as lived through its fashions was breathless. The soundtrack to this frenetic rummaging in the dressing-up-box was no less speedy. At the end of the 70s and into the 80s, it went from Punk, New Wave and Two-Tone to Synth-Pop in the space of around three years, with a figure such as Gary Numan acting as an effective bridge between the two decades, with one foot in both of them without really belonging to either as they have come to be retrospectively remembered. This wasn’t destined to last. It couldn’t.

The Acid House scene that went over-ground in 1988 was the grand finale of the era that had begun with the moral panic of Rock ‘n’ Roll thirty years previously. The whole Rave culture remained the cutting-edge until around 1992, when The Shamen’s chart-topping ‘Ebeneezer Goode’ signalled it was essentially over as a subversive sound, despite the controversy surrounding the single’s drug wordplay. Running parallel with the Dance dominance as the 80s gave way to the 90s was the mainstream breakthrough of Hip Hop, something that had slowly grown in influence throughout the decade. In a sartorial sense, the Hip Hop look proved to be the blueprint for the street-wear that has been the default style of youth for the last twenty-five years.

As their circulation figures plummeted in the face of online competition, the old music papers struggled to invent cults in the established traditions as the twenty-first century staggered into a cultural cul-de-sac. ‘Hoodies’ were not comparable to Mods and Rockers, as a hoodie is simply an item of clothing that can be worn by anyone under a certain age and is not tribally specific. Similarly, what is held up as an example of a contemporary cutting-edge sound such as Grime is not necessarily doing anything that the likes of So Solid Crew weren’t doing fifteen years ago. When a product-placement multi-millionaire showbiz businessman like Jay-Z is a role model (basically Victor Kiam with a break-beat) where be the Revolution?

Now that a quarter-of-a-century has passed since the last old-school youth-quake that was Acid House ended and the evidence that pop culture has entered an era of suspended animation is right there in the world outside your window with every passer-by, perhaps it’s time to admit an epoch is over and we are living in musical and sartorial stasis. The age of constant change that characterised the 50s up until the 90s now feels like an aberration in cultural terms; the world has reverted to type, a world in which every development is merely an exercise in recycling and therefore takes us round in ever-decreasing circles. For those of us who were either in the thick of it or caught the coat-tails of it, we should count ourselves lucky.

© The Editor

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THE ANNIVERSARY WALTZER

With one especially grim event dominating the headlines at the expense of everything else this week (an event that has already been covered in three out of the last four posts), I am actively seeking alternative subjects to lift the spirits a little and serve as a necessary distraction. A good anniversary ordinarily suffices, so why not? Long-term readers may recall a post from last summer in which I marked the fiftieth anniversary of the release of The Beatles’ ‘Revolver’, so it seems only fitting I should follow suit with the half-century of that landmark LP’s sequel. The actual anniversary fell yesterday (May 26), but what’s in a day? And what can I add to all the endless column inches that have been written about ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’? Well, I’ll give it my best shot.

As I was born the year the album was released, I am of the generation that grew up in its shadow; as a tiny tot watching Slade and Sweet on ‘Top of the Pops’, this curious, rather quaint relic of another era resting in my parents’ LP collection hardly seemed relevant and yet it remained the yardstick by which innovative pop music was measured throughout the 1970s – or at least until a new generation temporarily usurped the reverential millstone it seemed to have become around the necks of anyone seeking to take pop forward with the same hunger The Beatles themselves had achieved a decade earlier.

It was hard for an eleven-year-old viewing ‘Are Friends Electric?’ on TOTP and rightly seeing it as the defining cutting-edge sound of the fast-moving moment to appreciate the impact of ‘Sgt Pepper’s’ on the listening public twelve years previously. It seemed to have no bearing on what I was hearing. After all, I had been raised in a pop culture in which there were clear demarcation lines – Serious Rock ala Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Genesis in the album charts/Pop ala Abba, 10cc and ELO in the singles charts; it mattered not that both camps were capable of matching the other when it came to their respective musical merits; the way the divisions were sold to the record-buying public was a direct result of the late 60s split ‘Sgt Pepper’s’ indirectly led to.

Earlier in the same year that ‘Sgt Pepper’s’ was released, the last pop package tour of any real note took place; coming to a theatre near you for the princely sum of a few shillings, it was possible to see a bill featuring The Walker Brothers, Cat Stevens, Engelbert Humperdinck, The Move – and The Jimi Hendrix Experience. If it seems an inconceivable line-up now, it began to dawn on those who attended the tour that it was pretty inconceivable even then. But it’s not hard to see why some enterprising promoter put the bill together. There was no ‘Rock Circuit’ then and no festival schedule of the kind we take for granted today.

The Beatles, The Stones and everyone who had made a mark in the mid-60s had all trod the boards with multiple showbiz crooners on such packages; that was the way things had been done since Rock ‘n’ Roll had been imported into the UK in the mid-50s. It was only when it became obvious that very different audiences were buying records that had all been labelled ‘Pop’ that the error of the promoter’s ways became apparent.

As late as 1968, in the BBC TV presentation of Cream’s farewell concert at the Albert Hall, the band are constantly referred to by the narrator throughout as ‘Pop’. ‘Rock’ as a term that drew a distinction between King Crimson and Clodagh Rodgers appears to have come in shortly afterwards. But the release of ‘Sgt Pepper’s’ on the eve of ‘The Summer of Love’ marked the beginning of this division; the breadth of ambition and refusal to be constricted by what could and couldn’t be done saw the Fab Four blur boundaries and serve 1967 up in one all-encompassing Psychedelic soufflé. There was so much to choose from on there that other artists took separate snippets from it that they could build careers around without needing to acknowledge what they didn’t get.

For everyone who enjoyed ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’ or ‘With a Little Help from My Friends’, there were just as many who opted for ‘Within You, Without You’ and ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’. After ‘Sgt Pepper’s’, few attempted to present such a wide canvas again. Sub-genres abounded in its wake and there was no unifying force drawing all those disparate elements together once John, Paul, George and Ringo had abdicated.

The effective ‘trailer’ for what The Beatles had up their sleeves had come at the beginning of 1967 when, amidst rumours that their retirement from the stage meant they were finished, they released the double A-sided single, ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’/’Penny Lane’. The initial idea for a concept album on the theme of childhood that these two tracks were the intended starting pistol for meant they never made it to ‘Sgt Pepper’s’ when the concept was abandoned. McCartney’s breezy, optimistic ode to a nondescript Liverpool street possessed the same uplifting suburban sing-a-long spirit as The Kinks’ ‘Sunny Afternoon’ from the year before, whereas Lennon’s dreamy, druggy, surrealistic reimagining of a childhood haunt adhered to no previous formula on 45. It was telling the single was kept from the top spot by Engelbert’s ‘Release Me’; but as a taster for what was to come, it suggested The Beatles were far from finished.

When the long-awaited follow-up to ‘Revolver’ hit the record racks at the end of May 1967, it seems ridiculous now that the gap between the two albums was less than ten months; but the industry as it had been up to that point demanded two LPs a year and perhaps three or four stand-alone singles in addition. The Beatles yet again refused to bow to convention; they didn’t need to; they were imbued with such confidence and, yes, arrogance, that they could do whatever the hell they liked. The sleeve of the album, so instantly recognisable that it has been parodied more times than I care to mention, reflected this attitude; as did the fact they printed the lyrics on the back of it and that they didn’t release any of its songs as singles. They didn’t need to. The album sold as many copies as any single would have and in turn transformed the LP into what would become the premier art form of the next decade.

What’s easy to forget in the glut of anniversary waffle that will no doubt swamp the media over the next week or so is that this was a record release categorised as ‘Pop’ that was produced by four young men, none of whom were yet thirty, and yet was as adventurous a recording as any emanating from fields the critics had previously praised, such as Avant-Garde Classical or Jazz. It demonstrated Pop could outdo any other genre, however fragmented Pop itself would soon become as a result of the dazzling variety The Beatles were offering.

In an age when the Tin Pan Alley sensibilities The Beatles helped overthrow have been reinstated with little in the way of resistance, it’s somewhat sad to realise that half-a-century ago, the Svengali had been shown the door and the creative lunatics had taken over the musical asylum. To be an inmate there remains preferable to Care in Cowell’s Community.

© The Editor

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BACKSTREET STORIES

vera-drakeTo be frank, I don’t really want to write about screeching millennial cry babies with pink hair stamping their feet and unable to comprehend you can’t always get what you want; and I don’t want to write about bloody Trump or bloody Brexit again. So, where does that leave me? Well, loath as I am to devote this blog to endless anniversaries – the last post, in case you missed it, marked fifty years since the arrival of Milton Keynes on the Buckinghamshire landscape – I couldn’t help but notice the same year in which the biggest New Town of them all appeared, a piece of legislation was introduced that eventually changed the lives of women in this country in a way that few pieces of legislation ever have.

The 1967 Abortion Act brought to an end (on the British mainland at least) the grim scenarios that were frequently fictionalised in British cinema during the years leading up to the Act. The sole moment in archetypal mid-60s Brit-flick ‘Alfie’ that Michael Caine’s title character loses his arrogant cocksure swagger is when, having impregnated the wife of a friend, he gazes at the aborted foetus ‘delivered’ by a loathsome backstreet abortionist and bursts into tears. By eavesdropping upon Alfie confronted by the consequences of his reckless actions, we see the male realisation of abortion’s ugly realities, just as the female perspective was graphically portrayed in the BBC TV play, ‘Up the Junction’, a year earlier.

As with the imprisonment of male homosexuals and the death penalty, the laws surrounding abortion immediately prior to the 1967 Act were in dire and urgent need of reform. Ineffective DIY remedies involving hot baths, knitting needles and a bottle of gin had been familiar means of attempting to induce miscarriages for years, along with more extreme practices such as engineering a fall down a flight of stairs. If all else failed, the ‘Vera Drake’ amateur abortionist was a familiar figure amongst women in the know throughout working-class neighbourhoods, whereas those with enough money could procure an illegal operation on Harley Street.

Although the contraceptive pill had been introduced in the early 60s, fears of encouraging unmarried promiscuity meant that it was only available to women with a ring on the third finger of their left hand; but even abstinence from pre-marital sex or avoiding embarking upon an affair couldn’t prevent the occasional unwanted pregnancy within a monogamous marriage, especially if social and financial circumstances meant the prospect of another mouth to feed filled the mother-to-be with horror.

The backstreet abortionist – often a qualified doctor who had either been struck off the medical register or one who greedily supplemented his income with an operation he knew could land him in prison – was an odious urban shadow haunting the netherworld of British society as much as the blackmailer of homosexuals in the first half of the twentieth century. At best, he could leave the women who went to him because they had nowhere else to go with permanent physical damage; at worst, he could kill them.

The grisly truth of the dearth of choice women had in this period was brought home to listeners on ‘Woman’s Hour’ yesterday, when an archive interview from the mid-60s was broadcast; in it, a working-class woman from Tyneside spoke candidly of her own experience of a backstreet abortion. That her account was told bereft of the tearful emotion that would probably accompany such a confession today somehow made that account all the more chilling, as did the juxtaposition of its grimness with the jolly chimes of an ice-cream van that could be detected in the distance as she recalled what had happened to her. It was far-from being an easy listen, but as an eye-opener of what women had to endure prior to 1967, it was a remarkable piece of radio.

Future Liberal leader David Steel, then a little-known backbencher, was the MP who introduced the Private Member’s Bill to legalise the termination of pregnancy, though he was supported by Harold Wilson’s Labour Government; it appointed Sir John Peel (President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and the man who had delivered both Prince Andrew and Prince Edward) to chair a committee that recommended the Bill become law. After a debate in Parliament in which passionate opinions on both sides of the argument were aired, a free vote saw the proposal passed and it gained Royal Assent on 27 October 1967, becoming law as of 27 April 1968.

With the exception of Northern Ireland, the new law legalised abortion throughout Great Britain with a gestation cut-off point of 24 weeks. After the Act was passed, deaths as a result of abortions plummeted and the hideous spectre of the backstreet abortionist faded into history. The moral objections that accompanied the passage of the legislation through Parliament resurfaced as fanatical pressure groups, often of a religious bent; but fewer unwanted children were being born as a result, and fewer women were prematurely dying.

Yes, there is an irony that the anniversary of this British legislation’s introduction should coincide with the new tenant of the White House reviving Ronald Reagan’s old policy of cutting US funding for non-governmental organisations that offer advice on (or include) abortions in their overseas portfolios. As with promoting contraception in the developing world, such a service is one of the few ways in which the planet’s swelling population can be reduced; Christopher Hitchens made that point when justifying his campaign against Mother Theresa. But, while pro and anti camps will probably never be reconciled on this issue, the rights British women acquired half-a-century ago at least gave them something far more emancipating than tax-free tampons – actual control of their own bodies.

© The Editor

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BRAVE NEW WORLD

cowsNewtown was not only the name of the fictitious Merseyside metropolis in which ‘Z-Cars’ was set; it was also the name of a track on ‘Cut’, the debut album by reggae-fied punkettes The Slits. In the case of the former, the backdrop was supposed to reflect the Utopian housing developments of the early 60s (despite the apparently high crime-rate); whereas the latter chronicled the dull urban deserts such idealistic schemes had descended into by the late 70s – a cultural vacuum where everything was closed, boarded-up and abandoned as the populace stayed indoors and watched the telly.

The New Town was an innovative solution to Britain’s post-war housing crisis that spanned the first twenty-five years after the end of the Second World War, the New Jerusalem envisaged in the wake of the 1945 General Election; and it’s telling how quickly the powers-that-be got on with it. Stevenage in Hertfordshire was the first designated New Town in 1946, swiftly followed by the likes of Crawley, Corby, Basildon, Cwmbran, Cumbernauld, East Kilbride and numerous others up to 1970.

One of the final pieces in the New Town jigsaw was designated as such half-a-century ago today, a shiny space-age settlement occupying what had previously consisted of several small towns, villages and farmland in rural Buckinghamshire. It was named after one of the old villages it swallowed-up: Milton Keynes.

It’s interesting to recall that the last time the country experienced a housing crisis (courtesy of Adolf), the Government actually tried to do something about it by embarking on an unprecedented building programme that not only swept away both slum housing and bombed-out neighbourhoods in existing towns and cities but also created fresh hamlets from scratch, many of which would house the overspill population from densely-populated areas. Taking their cue from the pre-war ‘garden cities’, on the drawing board these New Towns embodied the optimistic determination of the Attlee administration to provide homes for heroes.

Shopping centres and workplaces were distanced from housing, with wide open spaces to compensate for the loss of the Greenbelt land as well as offering those relocated from cramped urban environments a facsimile of the country. The design faults in the original housing that was constructed with haste and inevitably led to corners being cut wasn’t evident to begin with; most of the citizens of the New Towns had come from overcrowded Victorian tenements and felt as though their new homes, with indoor bathrooms and all mod cons, were little palaces. Cinema newsreels of the time, acting almost as PR for the New Town scheme, extolled the benefits of these residential Nirvanas and painted a bright picture of a nation looking forward rather than back.

By the late 60s, the project was close to winding down, but experienced one great last hurrah with Milton Keynes. 21,850 acres were set aside for Buckinghamshire’s very own Brasilia, with a target population of 250,000; the aim was for Milton Keynes to be the biggest New Town of them all and architects were allowed to let their imaginations run riot in the distinct Modernist design of the buildings, viewing the town as a unique opportunity for an experiment on a grand scale that the limited space in existing cities prevented.

A revolutionary grid system for the plans was imported from the US to add a further alien sheen to the ambitious operation, and though skyscrapers were initially opposed, tall buildings eventually rose in the central business district. Milton Keynes, above all its New Town predecessors, eschewed the traditional layout of British towns and accurately anticipated an increase in car ownership as the motorway network gradually began to link-up the major cities.

Milton Keynes was an ongoing work-in-progress throughout the 70s and 80s; eager to acquire culture, it opened its first music venue, The Stables, sponsored by the premier couple of British Jazz, John Dankworth and Cleo Laine, in 1970; but perhaps the most well-known addition was very much out-of-doors – what was originally known as the Milton Keynes Bowl, opening in 1979. The national sport belatedly came to Milton Keynes in 2004 with the controversial formation of Milton Keynes Dons FC; by putting the town on the pools coupon, it seemed as if it was finally accepted by outsiders as a ‘proper town’, though for a location that was the culmination of Labour’s New Jerusalem vision, as soon as Milton Keynes became a Parliamentary constituency in 1983 it ironically voted Tory.

By the 80s, Milton Keynes was widely derided for its somewhat sterile and faceless ambience; The Style Council famously mocked it in their 1985 hit ‘Come to Milton Keynes’, and the factors that for many make the best British cities so special – the mix of old and new, the sense of history and character, seemingly random accidents such as narrow side-streets veering off on a tangent, the Medieval dirt beneath the manicured fingernails, if you like – are utterly absent from Milton Keynes.

Yet, for such a daring break with the characteristic British town, the aesthetic elements of Milton Keynes have proven to be the blueprint for virtually every redevelopment and extension of major towns and cities across the UK ever since. The Lego-like add-ons that spring up like a bland barrier encircling today’s metropolis are undoubtedly created in the Milton Keynes image.

For all its faults, however, the concept of the New Town was an ingenious and effective means of solving an acute crisis in housing; and what have we done on such a scale since? Considering how acute the current crisis in housing really is, bugger all.

© The Editor

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HAPPY EVER AFTER

divorceIn the first of his two stints as Home Secretary during the mid-60s, Roy Jenkins oversaw perhaps the greatest reform to some of England’s most antiquated laws than any other person to hold that post in living memory – the decriminalisation of homosexuality, the legalisation of abortion, the abolition of the death penalty, and much-needed upgrading of the complex process surrounding divorce. Right-wing revisionists might like to lay the blame of the ‘Permissive Society’ and its subsequent social fallout at his door, but society had already changed even before Jenkins kick-started legislation to reflect the shift in mores. Of all the reforms Jenkins oversaw, perhaps the most historically neglected is the one concerning the dissolution of marriage. In some respects, I only wish he’d gone further and outlawed the whole rotten institution.

I admit I’m a biased cynic on the subject and this is a wholly subjective piece as well as an extremely cynical one. Please accept my apologies. I had to attend a lot of family and non-family weddings as a child and I yawned my way them all, even if attendance gained me a welcome day off school. And now your humble narrator has been named as co-respondent in a divorce case – well, I’m not actually named as such; I am ‘Mr X’, the wicked seducer in the cock-eyes of the law; and the law is a ass, as someone once famously observed. Actually, I bloody well wish said accuser would name me; what an addition to one’s Outlaw CV that would be! I demand to be named! Instead, I have to settle for anonymity and being a bystander in a case that needed instigating, even if it has been instigated on an utterly farcical premise that enables the accuser to maintain the moral high-ground.

If it can be said to end in farce, the beginning is no better. There may have been a little fashionable tweaking to the old ceremonial aspect of the union, but it essentially remains an archaic and outdated ritual that has no basis in the life to follow. Like Christmas Day, a wedding belongs to a fantasy industry that various parties with a vested interest in its continuation act as brainwashing cheerleaders for. Loathsome celebrity couples with more money than taste have served to promote it to a new generation of deluded little Disney princesses raised on a diet of Bridget Jones bollocks, though the inevitable nasty divorce that is the natural climax of the ill-matched marriage is something the starry-eyed in love with the theatre of the event always choose to turn a blind eye to.

The idea of a woman as a possession of the father that he then hands over ownership of to the husband is a ludicrous anachronism in this day and age, and has been for decades; yet still, even in Twenty-bloody-Sixteen, there has to be the father (or the next best thing) surrendering his property in a laughable mock-legal transaction. It may be chic for the condemned to now insert their own sappy vows in place of the official spiel, but beyond the day they’re uttered before an audience, their relevance is akin to a fading suntan two weeks after the return from an overseas holiday. But, hey, let’s not quibble over irrelevancies. Mum gets to wear her new hat and call on the Kleenex when the ceremony reaches its gut-wrenching apogee, and the local church is able to pay for the new roof as a consequence of hosting endless gatherings of this nature that are crammed with people who wouldn’t be seen within half-a-mile of the venue come Evensong. And let’s not forget there’s always the reception, the entertainment value of which consists of an aunt who drinks too much and an uncle who fondles a bridesmaid; and everyone plays their allocated part in a badly-scripted sitcom that should have been cancelled forty years before.

However, if one can just about stomach the OTT frivolity of the ceremony when two become one, what comes next is just as meaningless and has little to do with love; the breeding machine for the future society is switched-on and the wife endures ongoing physical traumas in order that the post-nuclear family can keep buggering on with its 2.4 children. The statistics regarding divorce demonstrate how futile an institution marriage really is – 42% of them in Britain end in divorce; and whilst divorce levels are currently at their lowest for 40 years, the failure rate remains high and the likelihood of a marriage lasting until one of the spouses passes away in old age is fairly rare these days, certainly since couples no longer have to be chained to one another till death do them part.

Before the reforms Roy Jenkins oversaw in the 1960s, divorce went through various stages of complicated legal and moral changes; indeed, until the middle of the nineteenth century it was the exclusive province of the Church of England and Parliament – an expensive and protracted process undertaken not by barristers, but by civil law advocates and proctors in Doctors’ Commons; an annulment required an Act of Parliament, which restricted divorce to the wealthy, if they were prepared to weather the scandal as their most intimate marital details were discussed in the House.

Anyone familiar with Dickens’ ‘Hard Times’ will recall the agony of the working-class character Stephen Blackpool, whose estranged alcoholic wife walks back into his life and he cannot rid himself of her or marry the woman he loves until his parasitic spouse dies. The Matrimonial Causes Act 1937 at least made the process easier for women, even if the ridiculous employment of private detectives to prove infidelity kept divorce in the realm of the absurd; and the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 – a direct result of Jenkins’ reforms – democratised it considerably. A marriage could be now dissolved after three years; the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984 reduced that period to twelve months.

I find it hard to understand why anyone would feel the need to adhere to an irrelevance like marriage in 2016 when the old stigma of ‘living in sin’ has been mercifully consigned to history. The only question that passed through my mind when gay marriage was the hot topic keeping the classes chattering was ‘Why do gay couples even want to buy into this heterosexual museum piece?’

When the inevitable separation and eventual divorce comes, the legal minefield it opens up (and the pound signs it sparks in the eyes of solicitors) drags on and on to the point whereby both weary parties must find it hard to recall why on earth they bothered in the first place. Add children to the equation and you may as well look upon a marriage contract as a death warrant. The woman I stand accused of conspiring with in order to douse a deceased marriage in the flammable liquid of adultery will be free again one day, but until the day actually arrives the legacy of the tumour upon individual freedom that marriage represents will remain an impediment to that freedom. It is not ‘the wife’ who is the ball and chain, but marriage itself.

© The Editor

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WHO IS THE UGLIEST OF THEM ALL?

VazThe Daily Mirror – what do those words evoke? For me, they contain mixed messages. Ours was a Daily Mirror household during my childhood; although my parents were classic ‘Floating Voters’, the fact that our paper of choice (back when such a thing could define one’s political stance) was staunchly Labour suggests a lean towards Harold Wilson rather than Ted Heath, and the Mirror served as my introduction to Fleet Street. From a child’s perspective, the paper’s comic strips linger long in my memory, not only family comedy The Larks, as well as Bill Tidy’s The Fosdyke Saga and the perennial folk hero Andy Capp, but also Garth. When I was nine/ten, I became obsessed with Garth, the muscular hero whose adventures encompassed Bond-like espionage fantasy and sci-fi as well as a generous amount of exposed female flesh. For a few months, I used to cut out said strip and stick each instalment in a scrap-book. Garth’s 70s artists Frank Bellamy and then Martin Asbury were two of the finest British draughtsmen during the era before graphic novels and perhaps it was their brushwork as much as the plentiful supply of mammaries that caught my eye.

The Daily Mirror was Britain’s best-selling tabloid in the 50s and 60s, managing to blend populist fluff with hard news and pioneering campaigns to great effect; the populist fluff paid for the pioneering campaigns, and it was a successful blend until the challenge of Murdoch’s Sun gradually won over readers as the 70s morphed into the 80s. When Robert Maxwell purchased the Mirror in the mid-80s, the real rot set in and I don’t believe the paper ever truly recovered from his intervention.

Around a decade ago, I recall an exposure on Kate Moss’s cocaine habits set me against the Mirror. Moss was my heroine in the 90s, that decade’s Twiggy and an inspiration to ugly ducklings everywhere. That the Mirror chose to eavesdrop upon her private life and vilify her as a witch angered me so much that I printed her ‘Vogue’ front-cover wherein she replicated the sleeve of ‘Aladdin Sane’ on a blank T-shirt as a quaint gesture of support and swore I’d never buy the paper again. It seemed important at the time.

During Hack-Gate, the Mirror Group newspapers initially adopted a ‘Holier-than-thou’ attitude, though the Leveson Inquiry gradually revealed the Mirror Group were just as culpable as News International. Despite such prominent exposure of widespread corruption in journalistic practices, little has changed. Scandal and the moralistic high-ground remain the bread & butter of the tabloid press, even more so now that their very existence hangs in the balance; and the latest victim of the Mirror’s policy is an MP who can certainly be classified as an easy target if his past record is anything to go by.

Keith Vaz – ah, what can one say about Keith Vaz that hasn’t already been said? Plenty, it would seem, if the Daily Mirror is anything to go by.

His political career had been dogged by controversies even before this weekend, beginning way back in 1989 when he supported the fatwa against Salman Rushdie. Finding himself in government following the Labour landslide of 1997, Vaz was a year into his post as Minister for Europe when he was accused of not declaring to Parliament the gift of several thousand pounds from a solicitor; this was followed by the more publicised Hinduja Affair, when he and Peter Mandelson were accused of ‘fast-tracking’ a British passport for a couple of Indian businessmen brothers; he lost his Ministerial post as a consequence, but was then suspended from the Commons after it was insinuated that he sought to ruin the career of Eileen Eggington, a former policewoman, by making false allegations of harassment against her.

Hot on the heels of that one was the revelation that Vaz had intervened in the French Government’s attempts to extradite Anglo-Iraqi billionaire Nadhmi Auchi, swiftly followed by another failure to declare an interest in the case of a solicitor friend who had represented the Metropolitan Police Force in several race-related cases.

Since 2007, Vaz has sought to resurrect his tarnished career via his role as Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, and to be fair, he has played his part in bringing numerous wrong ‘uns to task. However, one always felt the amount of enemies Vaz had made were bound to catch up with him eventually, and the elaborate sting operation conducted by the Mirror Group appears to confirm this. He was evidently ‘due’.

Accused of paying rent-boys for favours, Vaz has been forced to step down from his prestigious post, encouraged to do so publicly by none other than former Culture Secretary John ‘Whiplash’ Whittingdale amongst others. Hmmm – pot/kettle/black, eh? The additional spurious ‘Paedo’ element also acts as a red rag to Twitter bulls, lest we forget.

As oily, slippery and dodgy as Keith Vaz undoubtedly is, the current allegations against him stink of a concerted attempt to bring his chequered career to an undignified end using the lowliest possible means. And however unlikeable a personality he may be, does that justify the desperate tactics of a discredited newspaper to act as judge, jury and executioner? I think not.


RICHARD NEVILLE (1941-2016)

OzThe death of Richard Neville at the age of 74 is another door quietly closing on the lifespan of the baby-boomers. The Australian journalist and spokesman for the 60s generation remains defined by his stint as joint editor of counter-cultural magazine ‘Oz’, the ‘Private Eye’ of London’s hippie underground that reached its apex of notoriety in 1971 when he and his co-conspirators Felix Dennis and James Anderson were embroiled in Britain’s longest-running obscenity trial. The trial at the Old Bailey was viewed as a high watermark of the 60s generational clash, a key battle between the let-it-all-hang-out youngsters and the patrician parents that had given birth to children that left them bemused and bewildered.

‘Oz’ was less politically-driven than some of its contemporaries, possessing a puerile sense of the absurd that reflected its roots as a college rag back in Neville’s native Australia. As the likes of Germaine Greer and Clive James had before him, Neville realised Swinging London was more conducive to his radical outlook than his conservative homeland and he arrived in the right place at the right time, developing a British equivalent of the original magazine that was stooped in the psychedelic rhetoric of the era, producing a periodical that was both graphically and journalistically challenging.

It was the 1970 edition inviting schoolchildren to paint a realistic portrayal of the educational system that landed him and his two fellow editors in hot water, peppering its accounts of paedophilic teachers and systematic ritual humiliation with contentious images of scantily-clad pre-pubescent kids and a doctored cartoon strip of a sexually-active Rupert the Bear with a huge penis.

Many of the issues that ‘Oz’ promoted, such as sexual and racial equality as well as ecological awareness, are now standard policies for mainstream political parties, showing that Neville was as much a man ahead of his time as he was of it; that he never really escaped the long shadow cast by his youthful role can be seen either as a tribute to the impact he made or an admission of failure in that even the most beyond-the-pale viewpoints become the general establishment perspective in the end.

© The Editor

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WHEAT AND CHAFF

TuckerGrammar and School – what is it about the combination of those two words that provoke such frothing at the mouth? Labour’s leading intellectual of the post-war era, Anthony Crosland, didn’t mince his words in his post as Education Secretary in Harold Wilson’s first government. ‘If it’s the last thing I do,’ he allegedly said, ‘I’m going to destroy every f**king Grammar School in England’. From an early 60s Labour perspective, entry to the Grammar School system via the 11-Plus exam was symptomatic of elitism within British society, whereby the lucky ones gained a fast-track to social mobility and the losers were relegated to a lifelong manual scrapheap courtesy of the Secondary Modern, written-off as factory-fodder before they’d even reached adolescence. But was it really so bad?

History tells us that Grammar Schools in the 50s were primarily packed with middle-class pupils, whilst Secondary Moderns were reserved for the working-classes; but the 11-Plus was class blind. If a child was academically bright enough, he or she made it, simple as that. My parents were both born the same year (1943) and both emanated from similar non-socially privileged backgrounds; my mother failed her 11-Plus, whereas my father passed his. My mother, like many girls of her generation and background, wanted nothing more from life than to be a housewife with children, so the 11-Plus was effectively irrelevant to her ambitions; those that wanted more had the opportunity to achieve it (admittedly to a lesser degree than later generations of women) if they passed their 11-Plus, so the exam served its purpose.

The Labour Party that gained power in 1964 regarded this segregation of the population at such a young age as cruelly mapping out their prospects for life, which is interesting; maybe Wilson and his contemporaries sensed traditional heavy industry was already living on borrowed time and that condemning half of Britain’s schoolchildren to a dying working environment was sowing the seeds of future mass unemployment? If so, they certainly didn’t spell it out at the time. Perhaps, bearing in mind their dependence on the support of unions, they daren’t.

The 1944 Education Act could retrospectively be viewed as the midwife to the Swinging 60s. Its introduction enabled working-class Baby Boomers not to have to beg local education authorities for the privilege of a scholarship (as future Tory PM Ted Heath did) to elevate themselves above humble origins, as they would have had to have done before the War. The Act opened the doors to academia for those to whom it would previously have been barred – born troublemakers like John Lennon, for example; a candidate for expulsion, he managed to slip into Art College thanks to a teacher who saw potential that, prior to the 1944 Act, would have had no higher education outlet. Lennon wasn’t alone; most of the musicians, writers and artists who played their parts in the Pop Cultural Revolution of the 60s and 70s benefitted from the Tripartite System of education, and the wider world benefitted from their benefits.

The social mobility that the Grammar School and its examinational Open Sesame facilitated greatly transformed British society for the better in the decades leading up to its eventual abolition in the mid-70s; and it’s worth looking at how social mobility has declined in subsequent years. How much the eventual subjugation of Grammar Schools by Comprehensives from the 70s onwards, as well as an increasing emphasis on the ‘everyone’s a winner’ educational mindset, has contributed towards the resurgence of success based upon nepotism and the old school tie is something that requires a longer debate than we have room for here; but there’s no doubt that naive belief in intellectual equality is responsible to a degree.

The announcement that the new PM intends to increase the number of Grammar Schools in Britain in an attempt to boost social mobility has been met with predictable protests from the Corbynistas as well as the Liberal Democrats. The former, ironically, betray their Blairite sympathies with their objections. Tony’s determined effort to make universities accessible to all was a misplaced egalitarian experiment that assumed every school-leaver actually sought another four or five years of education. The lack of investment in manual labour apprenticeships and alternatives to the tuition fee treadmill showed a short-sighted appreciation of what some children want from life, making a mistake in assuming Tony’s goals were replicated across society. Yes, of course universities should be open to the bright, regardless of where they come from; but the Blair Government reforms have merely priced the academically inclined from less-privileged backgrounds out of the market and have crammed today’s universities with wealthy dimwits.

It’s no great surprise that rent-a-quote media socialists such as Owen Jones have been so quick to criticise Theresa May’s proposals; the communal philosophy of Corbyn’s left wants to reiterate that all men (and women) are born equal – which should be a given, anyway; that some want to work with their hands and some want to work with their minds is always overlooked when it comes to this rather blinkered aspect of socialist thinking. Personally, I believe the Prime Minister should be given the benefit of the doubt. Unlike her predecessor in Downing Street, she didn’t have success handed to her on a plate; and if an increase in Grammar Schools gives the less-fortunate an opportunity to achieve success currently denied them, this is something that should be applauded rather than condemned with the token jerk of a knee.

© The Editor

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IT WAS 50 YEARS AGO TODAY

RevolverFive years previously, the revolution had begun under the national radar, in noisy, sweaty, cramped, claustrophobic clubs of a kind that would provoke a coronary in today’s average Health & Safety inspector; when it broke over-ground, it transplanted the treadmill to the theatres, where it topped bills still in the tradition of variety packages, sharing a stage with wartime crooners and comics. By 1966, Music Hall was dead and something once dismissed by the highbrow as pubescent bubblegum had become the most inventive mainstream in pop culture history as well as usurping Jazz, Folk and Avant-Garde Classical as the critical choice; and it was time for its troubadours to catch their breaths, to enjoy the hard-won fruits of their labours and take on the personas of foppish aristocrats. Thankfully for the listener, this pause as performing seals enabled the acts in question to redraw the landscape and remove the limits on the sky.

It was into this fertile cultural environment that the four young men who had spearheaded the revolution unleashed their most adventurous and enduring contribution to it, exactly half-a-century ago today. Competition was fierce the day ‘Revolver’ hit the record racks. The Rolling Stones had released ‘Aftermath’ four months earlier, breaking the 11-minute mark with the track ‘Goin’ Home’ and shaking off the R&B straitjacket courtesy of Brian Jones’ mastery of unusual instrumentation such as the marimba and dulcimer; meanwhile, The Beach Boys and Bob Dylan had thrown down an awesome gauntlet on the same day in May, with ‘Pet Sounds’ and ‘Blonde on Blonde’ respectively. Only eight months had passed since The Beatles had taken a great leap forward with ‘Rubber Soul’, and pop was still coming to terms with that when its follow-up appeared.

If the distorted, unsmiling faces gracing the sleeve of ‘Rubber Soul’ had called time on the gurning mop-tops, ‘Revolver’ hammered the final nail in the Beatlemania coffin. Not only was the disarming monochrome collage on its cover a signifier that the Fab Four had moved on, but much of the music contained within it had a cold, sneering harshness both in its lyrical content and its spiky guitar sound. The warmth-free guitars were merely one element of a beguiling sonic tapestry, however – one that defied the limitations that prompted the band to quit the grinding touring circuit shortly after its release. Sitars, saxophones, French horns, cellos, and most significantly of all, tape loops ala Musique Concrete, were poured into a melting pot that captured the sound of artists whose withdrawal into lysergic escape pods had sharpened their edges rather than softened them.

Bravely giving George Harrison the album’s opener, Lennon and McCartney encouraged their junior partner to let rip on ‘Taxman’, a snarling critique of the Labour Government’s punitive tax regime that appeared to be punishing the generation that was selling the country abroad as the Swinging capital of the western world; Harrison even name-checked both Wilson and Heath in the lyrics. ‘Eleanor Rigby’, track No.2, was once compared to a Thomas Hardy novel by poet Allen Ginsberg, and the fact that the uncrowned kings of the new social aristocracy could take time out to acknowledge the lonely, unloved and left behind is to their credit. Perhaps the most radical chart-topper of the decade, the wretched life condensed into ‘Eleanor Rigby’ also reflects the vogue for characteristically English social commentary in the pop lyric as the leading lights turned away from America and looked inwards; the Stones and (especially) The Kinks were doing likewise at the same time.

‘I’m Only Sleeping’ is Lennon at his most lethargic and simultaneously inspired, an ode to doing bugger all after five years of working his arse off. At a point when he was being crucified across the Atlantic for daring to compare the global adulation of his band to Christ-like devotion, Lennon revelled in a rare moment of LSD-assisted idleness and produced a hazy, reverse-tape masterpiece in the process. He is similarly detached from reality in ‘She Said, She Said’, a precursor to the following year’s ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ in its dreamy evocation of childhood innocence recaptured via some recreational mind expansion. McCartney’s two standout tracks after ‘Eleanor Rigby’ – ‘Here There and Everywhere’ and ‘For No One’ – both display a melodic genius that was McCartney’s answer to The Beach Boys’ ‘God Only Knows’, as well as setting Brian Wilson yet another challenge – albeit one he was sadly unable to rise to, courtesy of a mental breakdown in 1967.

Much-maligned, yet actually a song that grows more likeable in its charming, nursery rhyme simplicity with age, ‘Yellow Submarine’ couldn’t have been sung by anyone other than Ringo Starr, while ‘Good Day Sunshine’ evokes the unique beauty of an English summer’s day with the same throwback to old-school Tin Pan Alley as Ray Davies had employed on ‘Sunny Afternoon’ the same summer as ‘Revolver’ appeared. Lennon’s ‘And Your Bird Can Sing’, as with Harrison’s ‘I Want to Tell You’ and sitar-heavy raga-rocker ‘Love You To’, all exhibit an icy alienation from the loveable mop-top image that must have stopped the screaming knicker-wetters in their tracks in 1966. No wonder they turned to The Monkees six months later.

McCartney’s ‘Got To Get You into My Life’ is allegedly him addressing the peer pressure within The Beatles regarding delving into Acid, whereas Lennon’s ‘Doctor Robert’ is supposedly describing the man who dispensed the drug to the pop stars of the day; the former is a brilliant example of how influential contemporary black music continued to be on the band, especially Motown and Stax – something that is backed up by the story that The Beatles toyed with relocating to the Deep South when preparing to record the album.

The icing on the ‘Revolver’ cake was the closing track, ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’, a song in which John Lennon never sounded more removed from the everyman persona he and the band had represented during their initial rise. His own request to producer George Martin was that he wanted his voice to resemble the Dalai Lama calling to his followers from a mountain top, but the mosaic of unearthly sounds that surround his disembodied vocal point the way towards Psychedelia. Within pop culture at the time, only the BBC Radiophonic Workshop (and its most visionary member, Delia Derbyshire) were experimenting with similarly surreal soundscapes; that the biggest pop group in the world, who only a year before had produced the standard ‘Yesterday’, chose to close their most ambitious album to date with such an ‘out there’ track is typical of how The Beatles gleefully abused their position as Members of the British Empire.

England had won the World Cup six days before ‘Revolver’ was released; a sense that the country was riding a wave of optimism for the first time since the demoralising experience of Suez ten years previously runs through the record, yet the band equally never sounded more contemptuous or cynical of their status and of the monster they had created. That said, The Beatles were approaching the peak of their creative powers and the world was listening; it gave them carte-blanche to go where no band had gone before; and no member of the band was older than 26. Fifty years on, one cannot but be impressed.

© The Editor

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AN ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK

VinylThough one could reasonably claim that, in an age of iPod shuffling and the downloading of individual tracks at the expense of a carefully planned running order by the artist, the recorded album as a structured art-form no longer exists, the fact remains that this weekend marks the sixtieth anniversary of the British album charts. The first chart-topping LP (as the album was commonly referred to prior to the advent of the CD) was Frank Sinatra’s peerless ‘Songs for Swinging Lovers’, a classic for a defiantly adult audience, the audience the LP primarily catered for following its 1948 introduction onto the market. Initially, the Long Playing record was developed for classical music, enabling separate movements of orchestral works to completely fill two sides of vinyl, rather than being split into little sections as had been the case with the 78. The newfangled format was soon taken up by the mums and dads as a grown-up alternative to the vinyl choice of their children, the 45rpm. It continued to be a barometer of largely adult tastes for the first half-decade of the LP charts’ existence.

Glancing at a list of early LP chart-toppers, however, it’s interesting to note appearances by the likes of Elvis Presley, Bill Haley and Tommy Steele, even if Rock ‘n’ Roll has a mere cameo role to play where No.1 albums are concerned during the late 50s and early 60s. If one imagined ‘Original Soundtrack’ was the name of a band, they’d probably be the most successful album act of all time, for original soundtrack recordings utterly dominate the album charts during this period.

‘Carousel’, ‘Oklahoma!’, ‘The King and I’, ‘High Society’ and ‘My Fair Lady’ – either original Broadway cast recordings of stage musicals or the movie versions – all spent endless weeks sitting atop the LP charts between 1956-58, though none can compete with the daddy of them all, ‘South Pacific’. Hitting No.1 in November 1958, the soundtrack album for the film of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s stage musical remained resident at the top of the charts for the next 70 weeks! Yes, it was the sole No.1 LP for the whole of 1959 and wasn’t deposed until March 1960. That wasn’t the end of the album’s chart-topping run, however; it returned to No.1 on a further seven occasions, finally ending a staggering tally of 115 weeks at the top with one solitary week in September 1961, almost three years after first reaching the pinnacle. Beat that, ‘Thriller’.

The early 60s saw an upsurge of chart-toppers from Elvis, Cliff Richard and The Shadows, as well as the incursion of Trad Jazz via the likes of Chris Barber, Kenny Ball and Acker Bilk, though middle-of-the road tastes were still the dominant trend; The Black and White Minstrels had a trio of No.1 LPs in 1961-62 and ‘West Side Story’ upheld the original soundtrack tradition.

There was a notable change from May 1963, however, when The Beatles’ debut album, ‘Please Please Me’, hit the top of the charts. It remained there for the next seven months, only knocked off No.1 by the follow-up, ‘With The Beatles’, in December. After almost a full year as the sole No.1 album act, The Beatles were momentarily deposed by The Rolling Stones, when their debut long-player hit the top for twelve weeks in April 1964. Most retrospectively regard the rivalry between the two bands in terms of the singles chart, though it’s more glaringly evident in the LP chart of the time. ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ knocked the first Stones album off No.1 in July, a position it occupied until The Beatles again replaced themselves in December, this time with ‘Beatles for Sale’. ‘The Rolling Stones No.2’ hit the top spot at the end of January ’65 and the Beatles-Stones dominance of the chart finally ended when Bob Dylan’s ‘Freewheelin’ reached No.1 in April, the first non-Beatles or Stones chart-topper in two whole years.

By the mid-60s, the LP was becoming more recognised as an additional vinyl plaything for the singles-buying teens, with further chart-toppers from The Beatles, Stones and Dylan enhancing the generational handover where the album was concerned. There was one final hurrah for the old-school LP, however, when the soundtrack album for ‘The Sound of Music’ hit No.1 in May 1965, a position it returned to on a further ten occasions for the following two-and-a-half years, enjoying 70 chart-topping weeks in total. Hard to believe in an age when the songs from the film are now primarily seen as the province of a cult and mainly gay audience; but it was once the mainstream.

It was the release of ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ in June 1967 that finally sealed the album as the vinyl purchase of choice for the record-buying masses, a position it held throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s, surviving the changes in formats, from the cassette to the CD. The changes of the past decade, however, have altered the listening experience far more dramatically than at any time since the long-playing record appeared 68 years ago. The listener can now choose the running order of the album if they so wish; and the cohesive narrative of songs that became the album’s most distinctive hallmark has been rendered redundant. Still, it was bloody good while it lasted.

© The Editor

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SARTORIAL EFFLUENCE

SlobIt’s an old saying, but it rings true – clothes maketh the man. I believe they maketh the woman as well. Whether we like it or not, first impressions are often made by the way in which an individual is ‘turned-out’, and sartorial choices can speak volumes as to what kind of individual we are encountering. These first impressions can also stretch to those we don’t even encounter in person.

I was recently watching one of the extras on the DVD of a cult movie, featuring footage from a BFI-type event wherein the director of the film in question attended a special screening of it and answered questions from the audience. I’m sure you’re familiar with the set-up. As per usual, there was a guy with a microphone doing a little interview prior to hands being raised in the auditorium, and as the segment progressed I found myself becoming more irritated by him – not so much the evident absence of interviewing skills that is customary for the amateurs chosen for such a duty, but by the contrast between the dress sense of him and his counterpart on stage. The old director, well into his seventies, was a dapper gent who had clearly made the effort, whereas the interviewer looked like he was attending a gig by a Death Metal band – unshaven, clad in black baggy T-shirt and well-worn jeans. He may as well have travelled to the event straight from the sofa after dozing off with a half-scoffed pizza settled on his beer-gut the night before. No attempt at entering into the spirit of things, just the standard slob chic that now appears to be the default setting for so many men under fifty.

The history books tell us the hippies are to blame, that their emphasis on ‘letting it all hang out’ and dispensing with the straitjacket of the suit has led us to where we are now. This theory tends to overlook the fact that the initial hippies (at least on this side of the pond) morphed out of the Carnaby Street Dandy; photographs from the late 60s prove these were no scruffy hobos. Victorian velvet frock-coats and Regency ruffles were compulsory; only in the early 70s did a more tramp-like variation on the theme appear, most obviously in the likes of Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson. At the same time, however, mainstream fashion retained its peacock aspects and presented the male of the species with a dazzling dressing-up box that even those too old to have participated in the Swinging 60s (i.e. Jon Pertwee and Peter Wyngarde) took full advantage of.

For me, it stems more from the Rave/Madchester era of the late 80s/early 90s, a deliberately slovenly style that was in part a reaction to the suited and booted Yuppie and the most public pop culture promoters of the look such as Rick Astley. Britpop may have boasted a certain debonair eccentricity via Jarvis Cocker and (on occasion) Damon Albarn, but its core audience members were largely disciples of the Stone Roses ‘jeans, T-shirt and sneakers’ ensemble, an unimaginative uniform that has subsequently become the standard acceptable male wardrobe.

There is also the ‘sportswear’ look, which is equally responsible for the decline in dress. This grew out of football fans following English clubs during their all-conquering European sojourns in the early 80s, picking up Italian designer products en route and developing the ‘casual’ look as a consequence. They always looked like thuggish versions of Val Doonican to me, but this style gradually bled into the mainstream and eventually resulted in clothes originally designed for sports arenas evolving into accepted street gear. The most odious of this to me is the tracksuit bottom, the ultimate slob statement, usually worn by people who are the least athletic types one could ever imagine. Sod banning the burqa; ban the bottoms!

Teenagers, I believe, can be cut a little slack. I myself had a proto-Grunge look in the middle of the 80; photos of Kurt Cobain from the same period – and he was born the same year as me – show I wasn’t alone, despite my parents’ best attempts to convince me I was a one-off freak. Teenage studied scruffiness is nothing more than a traditional reaction geared to get up the noses of mater and pater and they do (or should) grow out of it. Any female adolescent is also contending with the narrow role models she’s bombarded with on a constant loop, all those designer dolls endorsing girlie stereotypes that any woman with anything about her would instinctively rebel against. This, however, is no excuse for the most recent female street style that is simply unforgivable. I’m talking, of course, about wearing bedroom outfits outdoors – dressing gowns and pyjama bottoms. I applaud schools and supermarkets that have barred such monstrosities from their premises. What does it say about someone if they can’t even be bothered changing the sweaty rags they’ve slept in when they venture beyond the doorstep? Unless you’re an old dear stricken with dementia, a slipper is not designed for the pavement.

There has been much talk of the Metrosexual male of late – the well-groomed semi-Dandy who actually takes the time to present himself to the world at his best. Metrosexual males may exist, but they tend to be small in number as well as mocked in that predictable knee-jerk manner so characteristic of the man who regards any aesthetic effort to look good as a sign of effeminacy. I do my bit, usually in financially-deprived circumstances; but not having the ready cash to buy the clothes I’d like means I improvise and have developed my own personal look that requires the kind of preparation before facing the world akin to an actor taking to the stage in full costume. Penury is no excuse for the slovenly. Everyone can look good if they want to. It’s just that society is now telling them they don’t need to.

© The Editor

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