From the Sixties to the End of the Noughties..did it match up to expectations?

Hello Good People who read this blog

I am listening to music over the headphones while I write this, to keep me focussed and calm,so I might as well start by sharing what I am listening to. Some English sixties folk, Sandy Denny with an acoustic home recorded demo version of Who Knows Where the Time Goes?

Across the purple sky, all the birds are leaving…

Well everyone on TV and radio seems to be reviewing the noughties. I can’t believe a decade has gone by.

I feel a sense of foreboding in broaching the subject of the “noughties” as I think for me it was a decade that started with high hopes and ends in doubt, fear and disappointment. In my personal life that is not the case but in terms of an alternative type of person living in London, it has not been a great decade.


I guess for me this decade started in the sixties. As a child, the year 2000 seemed like an impossibly long time away. I wondered if I actually would live to be that old.

In 1968 , this is what we thought could be happening in 2001:

At school in the sixties,one of the favourite essay topics of teachers, was to ask us write about how the world would be in the year 2000. We all wrote about world peace, wearing silver suits, having robots to do all our housework, going for holidays in outer space, an absence of disease, poverty and famine and extraordinary futuristic and sophisticated pop music,together with the occasional time machine and transporter room ( in the style of Star Trek). It is hardly surprising that we were so optimistic, the sixties was an amazing time of progress, with the peace movement, breaking down of many prejudices,new fashions made of new synthetic materials, amazing ground-breaking pop music, advances in medicine and the proliferation of science fiction which speculated on how new technology would affect us all in the future.

Some of the predictions made by scientists were very misguided.

Tomorrow’s World (BBC)  in the late 60s

At other times the predictions were petty spot on. Here is a clip I found called Britain of the Future . It features mobile phones, CCTV in banks, luxury short plane journeys to Sydney, computers and the internet, how we will select our children for mathematical ability, flatscreen TVs  and more.If you play it 5 minutes in, you will find some predictions for 2000. The population figures quoted must be for Britain only. In fact according to the National Statistics office the UK population in 2008 was 61 million and not quite the 65 million that they anticipated for 2000.

It is hardly surprising that in the sixties, a time of great creativity, invention and hope, that we looked to the future with great excitement. Could we say the same now? How do we see the future in these fearful times where every TV programme seems to warn us about some threat : climate change,  terrorist attack, or timeless pleasures that are a danger to our health, as well as the possibility of financial ruin or new diseases that will wipe us all out unless we wash our hands 20 times a day.

Do you know any teachers who ask their class to write an essay about how exciting life will be in the year 2050?

Poor kids today!

In 1969, western consciousness was full of hope. Everyone with access to a TV,remembers the day when Apollo 11 landed on the moon.  The music of The Beatles, Hendrix and others was so new, young and exciting , we hoped that with new technology  we would be creating the most amazing music ever by 2010…OOPS! We didn’t account for those forces that kill creativity: trying to make money by trying to appeal to all, trying to look perfect, marketing, advertising, selling your soul to Satan Cowell etc..

I remember sitting with some friends back in the eighties, after listening to all four “sides” of  Electric Ladyland and saying:  “Just imagine what music Hendrix would make if he’d survived until the year 2000 , with all that technology!” and others agreeing and imagining this amazing music with  new synthesizers and effects and even computers.

Now I think:”Yep…if Hendrix had survived, I bet his record company would be re-issuing all his old stuff. Maybe having gone through a brief “Unplugged” tour during the nineties.” Cynical me…

But technology has brought some interesting new music, even if it is sometimes rehashed old music from the sixties. Recently this was recommended to me by two people in their twenties. DJ Shadow’s “Endtroducing” ,first released in 1996 and re-issued in 2005.This album is created entirely out of samples. D.J Shadow combines these skillfully to make a totally new, and some would say,genius, classic album.

Is this the future of music?

Building Steam with a Grain of Salt  by  DJ Shadow.

I like it, but I prefer Dark Side of The Moon which uses samples of speech but where  the music is less repetitive and  the lyrics have a message.( Or do I have a case of middle-aged “They just don’t write tunes like they used to and don’t police officers look young”etc.?)P.S. 3/1/2010 However this track has definitely “grown on me” in the past few days. I find a lot of good music plays that trick.

Another PS!!!!

I recently interviewed Andy Leung for another  little radio documentary, he is the keyboard player from the band “Introducing” a nine piece band who play “Endtroducing” live at gigs and festivals. Now  this has become one of my fav tracks , here they are playing “Building Steam with a Grain of Salt” and other tracks for the album at the Skylarkin, Carling Academy Oxford in December 2008. What do you think?

I hope that the future of music in 2010 and beyond goes back to live performance, more thought-provoking contents, and originality. Unlike in previous decades, the music business is no longer the only way for independent minded musicians to get their music aired. The internet has liberated us and trapped us at the same time.

As far as file sharing goes, my feelings are mixed. The musicians I know,mostly don’t mind file sharing, they also like using open source materials and all the free things on the internet to help them, from myspace, to music lessons on youtube. But the musicians I know don’t make a whole lot of money. Internet file sharing is nothing new, ever heard of cassette recorders and photocopying machines? As a child/teenager I had very little pocket money. We used to record the entire chart show on Radio One on an old reel to reel recorder. I still have the tapes!

Here is Kraftwerk being futuristic in 1978.Will music in the coming decade be progressive or retrogressive? It all depends on what our collective consciousness or fashion dictate.

The Robots ( nevermind playing synthesizers, will they design robots to do the bloody housework next decade?)


Like the Apollo 11 Moon Landing, there have been some moments in life, commonly shared with others, where I remember where I was and who I was with, and every feeling and thought impressed  up there in my memory.Preceeding the beginning of the nougthies, there was the eclipse which I saw on Hampstead Heath in London, together with several hundred others.Each one of us forwarned eternally by the media not to look straight up at the sun. It was a special and spiritual moment, I spoke to many Londoners who I didn’t know there, and strangely I bumped into all sorts of music people I knew,but who were equally surprised to see me there. The eclipse reminded us that day, that we were only on a small, rather vulnerable planet, I felt united with others, but for some reason it made me feel sad too.

New Year’s Eve 2000 itself was also a strange time for me personally,  I remember having ventured alone into Central London around the Thames surrounded by thousands of others.I have never felt so lonely! London can be like that. Luckily I went to a friend’s place later.

I guess the main events from the Noughties that affected everything else in our daily lives in London, was September the 11th 2001 followed by the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Both events completely changed the London I knew into a place where CCTV and police apparently took over. I also remember the bus and tube bombings of July 2005 and the further aborted bombings a couple of weeks later. My entire neighbourhood was cordoned off that day, and a friend had to stay at my place because the police wouldn’t let him go home.

Immediately after September the 11th , I was very interested to hear all the “ins and outs” of why the “plane crashes”  could have  happened.

I knew both Americans and Lebanese people at that time, who knew a lot about politics. Before the full story broke out in the news, it was pretty obvious from my conversations with them, that it was bound to be a group from the middle-east over Palestine.

The protest march against the invasion of Iraq in February 2003 was another day I will never forget. I have been on a quite a few protest marches, but this was exceptional. The political apathy of the British public was dispelled for once and to take part in the march was amazing. It was freezing cold and slow, but I was so pleased to see others of all ages and backgrounds united in not wanting a war.

I had written a detailed letter to my MP at the time, Michael Portilo, a month or two beforehand, giving him five well-thought out reasons why we should not invade Iraq. One of my main points was that London would become a target for terrorists if we got involved in America’s attack. I stated that we were still regarded as neutral until we committed to invading Iraq. I wrote that I thought that central London would become a less friendly, and more dangerous place with armed police, and that there would be a threat of terrorist attacks on the tubes.

To my surprise, and to his credit, Portilo wrote back me ( or maybe someone in his office wrote it for him) . It was a long letter, replying to each one of my five points in detail. The letter is somewhere up in my attic I think, I could not find it to quote here unfortunately ( I may add it later).

Portilo assured me that if we did not invade Iraq, that London would become a terrorist target and a dangerous place to live. Although a conservative MP, he  fully supported the labour government’s actions. I might have sounded hysterical in my letter,but I was right.  Our tubes were bombed and London did become a far more paranoid and fearful place, with new detention laws and the police, at times taking over tube stations with an aggressive and intimidating presence,compounded by stories of police torture at Scotland Yard, police brutality at recent climate change protests etc…

I have subsequently met Kurdish refugees from Iraq and Turkey, living here in London, who were extremely happy to see Saddam go. One guy I knew lost not only his family, but all his friends,school teachers and everyone he ever met in his entire life, through one of Saddam’s mass gas attacks of the Kurds.

I am still a pacifist and think we were wrong to invade Iraq, but these things are never entirely black and white.


I guess my main worry for the next decade is the impact of climate change, I do think life for people will have to change whether we plan for it or not.

On a positive note, I am a great believer in Mother Earth. Before all the patriarchal religions ( and yes I know I will upset many by writing this!) there were religions in most parts of the world based on the concept of the great mother, the giver of life. The planet and all living things , and sometimes non-living things such land,rocks and hills etc. were sacred and respected.

If we don’t adopt a better attitude, then the forces of nature which are stronger than the forces of man, will take over.I believe the planet will be self-regulating. This is a very harsh image and of course I don’t want anyone to die or suffer. If we think of the planet as a kind of living being under threat (from billions of  little human parasites), then I believe that it could rebel and kill enough people so that it can restore itself back to health.

Well let’s see if we can prevent any great tragedy from happening by using  less, and thinking more about the way we treat our planet within this gigantic, wonderful and mysterious Universe. We must choose to either plunder or to care for this beautiful, delicate, live-giving planet Earth.

Happy New Year 2010,

May the next decade bring us Wisdom and Peace


Symbols, Rituals and the Power of Gatherings

Hello Good people who still read this blog in spite of a mixture of good and bad vibes.

I just wanted to wish you a Happy Summer Solstice.
I wish I was at Stonehenge where they allow quiet orderly celebrations from this evening through to tomorrow morning but I don’t drive and it would have meant going in the afternoon and trying to keep warm all night without a tent. I’ll leave those kind of enterprises to those a bit younger with better health.

I’m not expert on Megalithic monuments but I know what I like and of course Stonehenge is a focal point for the Solstice. Speaking of megalithic sites it was on my first visit to Avebury that I first encountered “new age travellers” although that’s not what they called themselves at the time and I ended up on probably my first ever wild weekend being chased across the country by police but that’s another story. I’ll write about that some other time. I don’t want to go on about the police again. I just want to put them peacefully to one side for the day.

I guess for me the solstice and megalithic sites are precious because they had in the past brought me to meeting many wonderful creative people and a reconnection with the past and of a time when people were more connected to the earth, to the planets and the sun, to timespans and when symbols and rituals came together to generate a special kind of power and magic. My imagination is kindled by such things and the countryside landscapes in which you can find these special ancient places where no one knows exactly what went on. The Stonehenge festival was probably the most amazing event I have been to in my life, a meeting point for many people and many different kinds of energy.

I like to come across such special places by accident and to be struck by their magic and beauty without any forewarning. One such time was when I was in Dublin on a short visit in 1997. It was a very strange time. Princess Diana had died and people were crying and lighting candles even in the churches of Dublin, I kept seeing London (and my local park!) on the TV with people in tears and I felt far from home. I’d gone to Dublin to play some songs busking and at acoustic clubs where some didn’t much like the British and yet they all dedicated their songs to Diana. It was an unusual time when strangers in cities bonded together over Diana even in Ireland where the British Royal family is not well-liked. Urban estrangement and politics were put aside for this spontaneous unity in emotion. I know a lot of people, especially friends who don’t like open displays of emotion and disliked Diana because she was part of the establishment who cannot understand those events and couldn’t share any common ground with those who grieved but if that’s you reader, you still have to admit it was kind of special in bringing people together all over the world even if you were not part of it.

I needed to get out of the city for a while to collect my thoughts and see some countryside. I heard there was a coach trip to a place called Newgrange. I knew very little about it beforehand. We went on a long expedition visiting an ancient ruined monastery is a desolate landscape, then over the river Boyne and stories from the tour guide of how the British starved the Irish and of course the Battle of the Boyne. After a long journey over streams and wetlands we reached this giant white round building with a grassy hilltop for a roof , it was not restored then as in the photo beneath, it was still in ruins with a bit of fencing round it. It had only recently been open to public and only if they went on the coach tour or made a special arrangement to be there. If you are Irish or into megalithic monuments you will know the place well but it was just a name to me.

Around the building were giant stones engraved with beautiful spirals and other shapes which looked like they could have been designed now as ornamental features. It is one of three similar sites in the area but this is the biggest and was the only one open to the public at the time.

The monument is at least 5000 years old. It is what they call a burial passageway.

The chamber inside is very small you can’t fit more than a few people and there is little daylight shining in. The stones in the chamber hold eachother up in some kind of strange suspension come jigsaw puzzle arrangement. I seem to remember the guide saying that every stone inside is completely different each adorned with spirals and geometric inscriptions. The symbols seem to go all the way around the stones not just on the parts seen. This really was a special event , everyone on our tour was silent and stood solemnly to soak up the atmosphere and wonderment of it all. But there was more .
There is a hole above the entrance to the chamber and at dawn on the winter solstice and the days around then, the sun shines in onto the floor of the inner chamber. On the winter solstice itself the sun shines in for 17 minutes only.

Part one of a three part TV programme of the Winter Solstice in someone’s living room!

Plenty more footage on youtube

Maybe their own Princess was buried there or someone of equal importance to them and maybe they wanted them to live again. At that time in all churches in Dublin people were lighting candles to pay their respects to Diana , to say a prayer and maybe to send a little hope and light to another world, to keep her alive somehow.
At the time there seemed a strange parallel at Newgrange everyone in the small coach party was solemn and subdued trying to take in the the sheer scale of the place , the boldly carved symbols, the atmosphere and beauty of this monument and its location. Maybe those who built the chamber wanted the dead to live again or to be sent on to another world, into the light. Maybe that’s why they designed it so that the sun would shine in at the bleakest darkest time of the year as a ray of hope that leads us back to summer. There’s a whole philosophy behind these symbols and monuments.

I remember the eclipse the summer before the new millenium. I was on Hampstead Heath on a hill with a gathering of poets, friends and musicians and there was a strange feeling and unity of people then. People were amazed at the sun’s partial disappearance and strangers shared their makeshift observing equipment, I seem to remember pieces of paper with pinholes being passed around and special glasses. The eclipse was able to bring even Londoners together temporarily and experience something special bigger than themselves and their own problems and gripes.

So I write not representing anyone but myself, although I call this blog hippie counterculture, it’s only loosely so . It’s really just a person, born to rant.

We are living in very difficult times with much insecurity on many levels so let us enjoy the solstice if we see the sun at all tomorrow ! I hope that more wondrous natural events can bring us strangers all together spontaneously with reverence instead of so many difficulties creating factions and strife.

Love and Peace


P.S. Maybe I should have written about Stonehenge, I just felt like doing something different.