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08.08.17

The shock of the General Election hasn’t even begun to settle down. Mark Perryman recommends summer reads to help grapple with interesting times.

The audacity of hope versus the mendacity of the weak n wobbly.  20 years ago it took until the early hours before that ‘were you still up for Portillo’ moment established the sheer scale of the Tories’ meltdown. Two decades on this was different. Firstly, the indicator, the exit poll, came a whole lot earlier leaving viewers with hour after hour of ‘surprise’ results to look forward to.  Secondly, Labour’s triumph, despite missing the overall majority, was both so unexpected and based on such a radical appeal. 

In politics nothing of course stands still.  Yesterday’s radicalism becomes tomorrow’s consensus while new issues arise to challenge us to change pre-ordained positions. Rutger Bregman’s Utopia for Realists  and Doughnut Economics by Kate Raworth were both published prior to 8th June, now they are each required summer reading for Labour politicians and activists who might mistakenly believe that ‘one more heave’ will be sufficient to dislodge the Tories and effect progressive change.

Naomi Klein’s latest  No Is Not Enough sets the necessity for an evolving, always more radical, project in the context of how being against is never, ever, sufficient, we need to be for too.  Brilliantly written, this is one of the current generation’s brightest thinkers writing at her very best. Rules for Revolutionaries has a similar US bias to Naomi’s book but is no less necessary to read as a result. Co-authors Becky Bond and Zack Exley draw lessons, what they call ‘big organising’, from their hands-on experience in the Bernie Sanders campaign that no serious Labour activist can afford to ignore if next time a decent second in the key 66 marginals is to be turned into a runaway first place. 

The Thatcherite Offensive by Alexander Gallas is an important new contribution from an old perspective, the work of Nicos Poulantzas, towards an analysis of an era most of us would prefer to forget, Thatcherism. Taking an admirably internationalist  look at the  potential to challenge neoliberalism the edited collection The Left, the people, populism ranges over a wide range of subjects and European countries, a vital antidote to the parochialism of the English Left.   Of course such inwardness does get punctured from time to time, recently the #blacklivesmatter movement in the USA has been one such source of inspiration, Wesley Lowery’s They Can’t Kill Us All is the riveting tale of how this movement exploded on the US political terrain and helped begin to shift the boundaries worldwide of debate on race, class and policing to good effect. 

Jess Phillips is best known perhaps for her explosive interventions to burst the Westminster Bubble. Too easily pigeon-holed simply as an arch anti-Corbynite her book Everywoman reveals instead a grassroots activist-feminist turned MP who more than anything else wants to upset the status quo, whoever or whatever is defending it. Jamie Bartlett would certainly recognise the necessity of such an opening-up, in Radicals he provides a hugely original account of how it is outsiders, often sitting uneasily on the traditional left to right spectrum who across the globe are forcing change to the mainstream.  Leon Rosselson’s short memoir That Precious Strand of Jewishness That Challenges Authority provides a sense of one such source of this radicalism, an important rejoinder to the current febrile debate over what is, and is not, anti-semitic.  But of course outsiders, radicals can originate from all variety of sources, the English Defence League for a period posed a real challenge to what it was assumed were settled notions of a multicultural and diverse society, fomenting an unapologetic racism, Islamophobia and anti-immigration into a street-fighting weekend army.  Loud and Proud by Hilary Pilkington, is a vital study of the EDL in preparation for any revival of a similar type of movement.    

What might frame the endurance of the revival on our side? Most would argue that this will depend on the continuing popularisation of the anti-austerity message. Few books will do this better than Polly Toynbee and David Walker’s Dismembered a fact-filled polemical description of the scale and depth of our public services starvation of resources. Housing was a hugely important issue to many of the millennials who cast their vote in such numbers for Corbyn.    Rent Trap by Rosie Walker and Samir Jeraj combines an analysis of the growth of the private rental market  and alternatives which would put the needs of tenants first and the profit margins of greedy landlords second.       

There is nothing worse than failing to look back to the past for lessons for today, and tomorrow’s Left.  Unfortunately however the process of going backwards to go forwards too often becomes a recipe of being trapped by yesteryear’s models. Don Watson’s Squatting in Britain 1945-1955 is a text book avoidance of that trait and deserves a wide reading too post-Grenfell.  Another book useful for those reflecting on Grenfell is Justice Denied a powerful reminder that righting wrongs is never anything less than a battle , Orgreave and Hillsborough are more than enough testament to that. Gregor Gall’s Bob Crow, Socialist, Leader, Fighter is described as a ‘political biography’ which neatly sums up its appeal. The story of not just a forceful personality who fought his way to the top of his trade union but the values he sought to protect and promote via the campaigns he helped lead. A very different story is Jonathan Lerner’s autobiographical Swords in the Hands of Children . This is the era of ’68, all that hope, liberation and revolt and when all of that came to nothing, the self-destruction that came next.

Twentieth Century Communism is an uncanny read for those interested in rediscovering the range, content and meaning of perhaps the most important radical tradition of the past century. The latest edition is a special issue dedicated to the literature of communism.Edited by Paul Flewers and John Mcllroy 1956 : John Saville, EP Thompson & The New Reasoner combines both the original ’56 debates with a hugely effective and informative commentary  provided by the editors. But of course it is 1917 which is attracting the most attention in the Russian Revolution’s centenary year. The Dilemmas of Lenin by Tariq Ali is no hagiography yet the message of the enduring case for revolution shines through, whatever the changes in circumstances.  For a short and very readable account of the movements that produced the Russian Revolution Dave Sherry’s Russia 1917 : Workers’ Revolution and the Festival of the Oppressed.   Written with a style few other authors would even attempt to match  October by China Miéville is novel, yet politically compelling, a book to appeal to those who remain drawn to the romance of the revolutionary ideal. For an insight into the culture the revolution helped produce and then propel on to a world stage 1917 : Stories and Poems from the Russian Revolution edited by Boris Dalyuk is the perfect accompaniment. 

Of course over the decades a culture of resistance has taken many forms, the latest #grime4corbyn too recent to have very much written about it yet. Trish Winter and Simon Keegan-Phipps trace folk’s peculiarly English traditions in their book Performing Englishness.  Billy Bragg’s  Roots, Radicals and Rockers is a magnificent account of skiffle which along the way Billy claims helped change the world. Two books that cover more recent collisions of music and politics are Fightback: Punk, Politics and Resistance edited byThe Subcultures Network and the Gavin Butt, Kodwo Eshun,Mark Fisher edited collection Post Punk Then and Now. Dave Randall’s Sound System : The Political Power of Music. is an unforgiving call to guitars, drums, keyboards, sax, by any instruments necessary to change the world.  

Of course no summer would be complete without the joys of salads, picnics, barbecues with ice-cold chilled drinks on the side. Be overwhelmed with ideas to sparkle the appetite, and without a sniff of meat in sight from Sam Murphy's superb Beautifully Real Food.

And the other treat no summer would be complete without is of course a decent thriller. Chris Brookmyre’s latest Want You Gone certainly won’t disappoint with his customary mix of dramatic plot turns, rich humour and tartan noir. Nor should the grown-ups be allowed to have all the reading fun either. Michael Rosen’s latest creation , Uncle Gobb, reappears in Uncle Gobb and the Green Heads, hours of fun for young readers while adults can ponder if this Gobb character is really the living embodiment of the marketisation of our chidren’s education.  

Making sense of 2017’s political  surprises requires both an understanding of the present and the ability to connect this to a theoretical framework as a means of exploration and explanation too. The reissue of Perry Anderson’ s The Antinomies of Antonio Gramsci with a new, and very substantial, preface is a superb sign post towards such an intellectual journey.

Unarguably the most significant populariser of Gramsci, and one of the founders of the modern academic discipline of Cultural Studies, Stuart Hall,  has been treated to a recent spate of well-deserved books of late. His partial autobiography Familiar Stranger has been published posthumously with the help of his long-time collaborator Bill Schwarz. David Scott’s Stuart Hall’s Voice consists of a wonderfully original format, a series of letters written to Hall after his death exploring the significance of his legacy to so many contemporary intellectuals who remain enthralled by his influence. Within the academy that influence remains most alive, and at its best still kicking too, in cultural studies, the publication of Hall’s lectures from 1983 which framed this influence, Cultural Studies 1983 : A Theoretical History  edited  by Jennifer Daryl Slack and Lawrence Grossberg therefore could not be more welcome.  

And it is Stuart Hall who post-election provides us with our book of the quarter too. Wherever we spend the summer relaxing and recovering,  the collection Stuart Hall Selected Political Writings : The Great Moving Right Show and other Political Essays is both a timely an enjoyable read. On the page, and for those of us who were lucky enough to hear him, as a speaker too, Stuart Hall brought the analysis of politics alive in a way which is sorely missed in 2017. These essays provide a sharpness of intellect and warm embrace of analysis that are a positive joy to read, new and afresh or but read in a new times, good and bad, that even Stuart Hall could never have foretold. 

  

Mark Perryman is the co-founder of Philosophy Football. His own book, the edited collection The Corbyn Effect is out from Lawrence & Wishart in mid September.  

 

 

 

 

Note No links in this review are to Amazon, if you can possibly avoid buying your books from corporate tax dodgers please do so.

 

 

Nothing To Lose But Our Chains

01.07.17

As the annual cycling spectacle of the Tour De France begins Mark Perryman argues the case for two wheels good

Who would have guessed it. Karl Marx was clearly a bike mechanic when he wasn’t plotting the downfall of capitalism. ‘ Nothing to lose but your chains’ is  handy advice when the derailleur slips and furious pedalling propels bike and rider precisely nowhere. OK Marx was more interested in liberating the workers of the world than the freedom of the road though with committed cycle-commuter Jeremy Corbyn quite possibly in need of a Downing Street bike rack soon there doesn’t seem a better time to make the case for cycling as the people’s sport.

For those who take an interest in the competitive side Le Tour will be on the TV for the next three weeks as it weaves its way from the Grand Départ in Germany ,through Belgium, a quick detour to Luxembourg  and across France to the traditional finish on the Champs Élysées. That’s two boxes ticked straightaway in my case for a people’s sport. Firstly, despite Sky’s sponsorship of the premier British team competing, the race is broadcast on terrestrial TV, live and highlights packages, free to air on ITV4. And secondly this is a genuinely internationalist event. Fundamentally French of course but shared with all manner of other European countries too in terms of where it may start, the stages too, but never the ending, that will always be Paris.  Not quite the proletarian internationalism of our Marxist dreams but not a bad model for a sporting culture beyond borders. And of course lined along the route in their hundreds of thousands the fans, none paying even a cent, or nowadays a Euro, for the privilege. Nor is there any significant infrastructure to waste huge amounts of money in, leaving stadia and other facilities behind never to be filled again. Instead just about the only spend is to improve the road surface, for the benefit of all. For the many, pedestrians, cyclists and car-drivers alike.

Of course like previous Tours this one will be mired in an unfolding drugs controversy . Made all the more awkward this year though forBritish cycling fans by the fact that the spotlight will be mainly on Team Sky, rider and race favourite Chris Froome and Team Sky Principal Dave Brailsford.  Allied with both the unresolved drug allegations against Bradley Wiggins and the prolonged furore over sexism and bullying in and around the Olympic Team GB track cycling  squad this has all threatened to dim the golden glow of Britain’s single most successful sport over the past decade.  Cycling has taken a knock, there’s not much doubt about that. But the roots of its appeal are now so deep all the signs are that it will not only survive but continue to flourish too.

Marx, notwithstanding my spurious claims for his contribution to the art of bicycle maintenance (famously, similar claims have been made for Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance too) is at least partially responsible for the answer. Cycling, like all sport, is socially constructed. It is a leisure activity we can take part in without scarcely even noticing. What other sport can double up as a means of getting to work, to do the shopping, to pop down the pub?  A bike can provide the basis for a family day out too, perhaps best of all it’s a habit we can pick up as children and once we’ve learned not to fall over it’s a skill we never lose. 

Of course at the upper end of cycling culture, particularly men who take the spprt up while suffering from a midlife cycling crisis, the bikes cost the proverbial arm and a leg. Many observers suggest that this in part explains the decline in golf, middle aged men who should know better investing in handbuilt carbon frames with all the gear to go with it rather than ever-escalating green fees to tee off at the most expensive 18 holes. Yes the recession hurts even the most well-paid, so there’s almost certainly something in this but the class enemy on two wheels represent only one particular portion of cycling’s growing popularity. 

Likewise the impact of the drug, bullying and sexism scandals. Elite success, Wiggins and Froome winning Le Tour, bucketloads of Olympic Cycling Gold medals certainly contributed something to cycling’s appeal. It was a bit like Coe, Ovett, Cram and Elliott’s success on the track coinciding with the late 1970s to early 1980s running boom. A factor, but not the total explanation the media-boosters would like to claim for their coverage.

A green environmentally-friendly pursuit, increasing investment in safer cycling routes and paths, sunnier summers (I know, climate change is devastating but right now while the sun shines plenty are making the most of it), austerity staycation culture, these are at least as important factors, and together add up to a whole lot not more.  Hence the social construction explaining cycling’s growing and enduring popularity, not to mention to grow some more under a genuinely cyclist socialist PM. There’s a durability to this appeal unikely to be materially affected by news of dodgy medicinals or bullying coaches.

Sport’s core attraction is always assumed to be competition. Wrong. For most this only applies to the spectators, those who watch but don’t do. Being on the losing side bringing up the rear does more to deter the young from sport than virtually anything else. And once deterred regardless of the presence of compulsory sport lessons hardly anything else proves effective in reconnecting the inactive with participation. This is where cycling is key. ‘ Just do it’?  Half the time we don’t even realise we’re doing it , the blurring between means of transport, leisure activity, competitive sport an advantage, most certainly not a disadvantage.   

 

I’ll conclude with just about the most communistic sports event I’ve ever taken part in, the increasingly popular cycling sportive. No the organisers aren’t planning revolution via long rides through the countryside but to my mind the format unwittingly subverts the competitive instinct via equalising participation.   Staggered starts over varying distances so nobody knows who the winners are, or crucially, the losers either. For some racing against their own individual clock, for all a collective race against the shared distance and terrain. More often than not raising money for a good cause. The same prize wherever you finish,. Not that I’ve ever seen Marx on one mind, must be back in his bike shed working on unfettering those chains.

 

 

 

 

 

Mark Perryman is the co-founder of Philosophy Football. The ‘Nothing to Lose but Your Chains’ Cycling T-shirt is available from here

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

A Riot of Our Own

31.03.17

8th April is the 40th Anniversary of The Clash Debut Album Mark Perryman asks what the 1977 punk and politics mix  was all about?

The birth of punk for most is dated on or round 1976 with the November release  that year of the Sex Pistols’ Anarchy in the UK with both music and movement kickstarted into the ‘filth and fury’ headlines via the band’s expletive-strewn Bill Grundy TV interview.

More Situationist than Anarchist Rotten and the rest were of course key to the detonation of a youthful mood of revolt alongside the not entirely dissimilar The Damned, Manchester’s Buzzcocks and the more trad rock Stranglers. Giving the boys’ bands a run for their money The Slits pushed perhaps hardest at punk’s musical boundaries, their Typical Girls track quite unlike what the others were recording.

But it was The Clash that more than anyone who symbolised the punk and politics mix , showcased on their debut album The Clash, released 40 years ago 8th April ’77.  From being bored with the USA and angrily demanding a riot of their own via hate and war to non-existent career opportunities, fourteen tracks, played at furious speed to produce two-minute classics. The one exception their inspired cover version of  Junior Murvin and Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry’s Police and Thieves, played slow, the lyrics almost spoken rather than sung backed by a pitch perfect reggae beat. 

The album cover shows the youthful threesome of Strummer, Jones and Simonon in their artfully stenciled shirts and jackets that was to become their signature stagewear uniform completed by the obligatory skinny jeans, white socks, black DM’s. The print quality is purposely poor to add a degree of authenticity that this band more than most hardly needed. But it was the back cover that is the more telling.  A scene from the 1976 Notting Hill Carnival Riots with the Met’s boys in blue, these were the days before RoboCop style body armour, riot shields,  helmets with visors, in hot pursuit of black youth retreating and regrouping under the Westway flyover.

It was that experience in ’76 that inspired The Clash’s anthemic White Riot and the lines ‘ WHITE RIOT! I WANNA RIOT . WHITE RIOT! A RIOT OF MY OWN.’  At the time the National Front’s  streetfighting racist army was laying waste wherever they marched, their leaders John Tyndall and Martin Webster pretty much household names, and the NF was getting indecent enough votes to suggest an electoral breakthrough might be a possibility. The potential for ‘White Riot’ to be misinterpreted then, and now too, is obvious. But the band’s intent couldn’t be clearer. Living, and recording in around the Westway they embraced the changes this West London community had undergone since the 1950s, Caribbean music, food and fashions as much a part of who The Clash were as rock and roll, Sunday roast and safety pins.  It was a spirit of Black defiance they sought to share not oppose.

“ All the power is in the hands

Of people rich enough to buy it,

While we walk the streets

Too chicken to even try it.

And everybody does what they’re told to

And everybody eats supermarket soul food!”

A year after the album’s release and The Clash headline the first Rock against Racism carnival in London’s Victoria Park.  The dayglo politics of this musical culture of resistance  fitted perfectly with the agitprop look and lyrics of the band. Not just them either. From Polly Styrene of X-Ray Spex’s  Oh Bondage Up Yours! punk feminism via  Tom Robinson’s liberatory Sing If You’re Glad to be Gay and Birmingham’s Steel Pulse with tales of a Handsworth Revolution. This wasn’t just a line up that commercial promoters in ’78 would die for it was a platform to challenge prejudice both without and within that we could dance to, or jump about to more like.

In her book 1988 The New Wave Punk Rock Explosion, confusing actually published in 1977 Caroline Coon predicted of The Clash  ‘ their acute awareness, and ability to articulate the essence of the era which inspires their music, will make their contribution to the history of rock of lasting significance. Happy times are here again.” 

The Clash inspired, and continue to inspire, a wave a bands who play music we can dance to and march to in equal measure. Belfast’s Stiff Little Fingers and Southall’s Ruts, the Au Pairs stand out from back then. Poets too, who often styled themselves as ranters, Seething Wells, and of course Attila the Stockbroker.  Then came the unforgettable and much-missed Redskins and the hardy  perennial favourite Billy Bragg of so many musical incarnations.  Today? A new wave (sic) of bands whose influences, musically and politically, can be traced back to ’77 era Clash would certainly include The Wakes, The Hurriers, Thee Faction, Joe Solo, Louise Distras, Captain Ska, Séan McGowan and more.  Off the musical beaten track yet holding out for a better tomorrow with tunes to match.

Like all successful musicians The Clash did become in their turn stars, celebrities, their appeal went mainstream,  the venues became bigger and bigger though through force of circumstance the band bailed out before they reached U2’s overblown proportions or outstayed their musical welcome to play into their dotage Rolling Stones style. 1977 is a moment to look back to and remember but not to fossilise, that would be the antithesis of everything they represented or as the final track from the album put it :

"I don't want to hear about what the rich are doing, I don't want to go to where, where the rich are going."

Garageland. That’s where they came from and never entirely left either. Its why more than anything else ‘77 Clash in 2017 matter still.

 

’77 Clash T-shirt range available now from Philosophy Football

‘ 77Clash Night is presented by Philosophy Football in association with the RMT and supported by the FBU, Brigadista Ale and R2 Magazine. Saturday 8th April, the 40th anniversary of the release of The Clash Debut Album side one played   live ‘as was’, side two ‘played now’ by artists of today remixing and rewriting the originals. At Rich Mix, Shoreditch, East London. Tickets just  £9.99 from here

 

All Power to the Ideals!

08.02.17

What kind of centenary celebration, Mark Perryman asks, does 1917 deserve?

A century ago, 23rd February 1917, Russian women marched out in protest from the St Petersburg  factories where they worked to defy Cossacks armed with swords and took control of the city’s streets. In less than a week they had been joined by hundreds of thousands of other workers.The St Petersburg Military Garrison mutinied in their support. A rebellion led by women for people’s power had begun.

The 1917 centenary will be one of the publishing events of the year with writers from Left and Right battling it out in words over the legacy. The Royal Academy, the Design Museum, British Library and Tate Modern will all host major exhibitions of Revolutionary-era art. In October Philosophy Football, in association with the RMT, will present a night out at London’s Rich Mix Arts Centre ‘To Shake the World’ celebrating the culture of the Revolution. While during the day Michael Rosen and friends will host an event for families featuring the children’s books of the revolution. And there will even be a guided history walk to visit the hidden history of connections between London’s East End and 1917.

Not all agree that 1917 deserves any kind of celebration at all.  Art critic Jonathan Jones writing in the Guardian rages against the spectacle of the Royal Academy ‘Revolution : Russian Art 1917-1932’  exhibition because  “The way we glibly admire Russian art from the age of Lenin sentimentalises one of the most murderous chapters in human history.” Unless the Royal Academy (the clue might be in the title Jonathan) has reinvented itself as a bastion of Marxism-Leninism it is most unlikely they will be sentimentalising communism nor, given their reputation, is glibness likely to characterise how they showcase the art via context.

It is undeniable that the Russian Revolution cost lives, millions of lives.  It took place in the era of World War One when millions of lives were being lost on the fields of France too. And this was the age of Empire with millions more lives sacrificed in the cause of imperial plunder and subjugation across the world. All three events, 1917, WWI, Empire were bloody. None should be sentimentalised. Each needs to be understood. Anything else is the denial of history.

In ’89 the fall of the Berlin Wall was famously claimed to mark ‘the end of history’. Yet a generation later the cause of radical change in an era of #dumptrump and #chaoticbrexit remains.The strength of the connections between these 2017 social movements and 1917 are there to be argued over, the history contested but to dismiss the revolution of a century ago  as either wholly irrelevant or entirely the model for change? Either would be both arrogant and unwise.

The crucial point of the October Revolution was reached some seven months after those women workers first marched when the Russian Royal Family’s Winter Palace was successfully stormed. The signal for the assault to begin was the firing of a blank from the bow gun of the Russian warship, Aurora. The ship’s crew, inspired by the protesting women had mutinied back in February to side with the Bolsheviks.

And what followed 1917 was a movement, in Russia, but beyond too, that unleashed the most unprecedented wave of creative imagination. Today the art of the  period has become chic, fit to hang on the most respected gallery walls,treated as an historic artefact not a tool of revolutionary change. Of course nobody would decry the simplistic beauty of Lissitzky’s Red Wedge but to disconnct the aesthetic of this and hundreds, thousands, of other pieces from a period when art, poetry, music, film, theatre and more from the ideas that propelled them into production with a revolutionary impulse would be a travesty.  Perhaps the most famous cultural movement out of 1917 was contructivism. But these weren’t shapes artfully assembled without purpose. This was construction with designs on everlasting change, revolution. Too often this is represented, and reproduced too by those who fail to learn the lessons of 1917’s failings, as a top down didactic. Rather at its best, politically and artistically the Russian Revolution was a movement from below inspired by the human capacity to shake the world in which we live.

This is the point those who decry the 1917 Celebrations miss and some who join with the commemorations miss it too. This wasn’t a revolution made by Lenin, Trotsky, or Stalin. Though all three played their part of course in what it was, and what it became. But most of all this was a revolution made by ordinary people, women factory workers began it, rank and file sailors fired the starting signal, with their actions and achievements they inspired a vision for a better world. This is what we should celebrate 1917 for, the potential that we the people have, together, to effect change. 

Philosophy Football’s 1917 Centenary range of T-shirts is available here

Further reading

   Neil Faulkner, A People’s History of the Russian Revolution is available from here

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mark Perryman is the co-founder of the self-styled ‘ sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction’ aka Philosophy Football

Heroes, and some Villains

17.01.2016

Sanjiv Sachdev reviews ‘Exhibit A’ by Hugh Tisdale and Dan Murrell

‘Fame, puts you where things are hollow’ - David Bowie

Celebrity masks of the likes of Simon Cowell, Princess Diana and Robbie Williams, are a familiar sight in tourist sites and seaside resorts.  ‘Exhibit A’, a new show by Hugh Tisdale and Dan Murrell, converts this commonplace tourist trinket to witty, subversive and sometimes disturbing effect.

A rich seam of political caricature runs through British art; from Hogarth, James Gillray and Thomas Rowlandson to modern day equivalents of Peter Kennard, Martin Rowson and Steve Bell, the wealthy, privileged and powerful are interrogated, savaged, scrutinised.  ‘Exhibit A’ stands in this tradition.  The legacy of John Heartfield’s coruscating photomontages, that foretell and depict the savagery of the Third Reich, is also evident.  There are also echoes of that notorious inquisitor of fame, Warhol, the presence of Mao and Monroe inevitably invite comparisons. Fame, benign or malign, is weighed and questioned.  In an era where fame is no longer seen as a by-product of achievement, although it still often remains that, but a pre-eminent value in its own right, these questions are worth posing.

Masks have a long history in culture and art, enabling the concealment of individual identity and the assertion of others. Greek theatre masks enabled transformation into an array of roles, be it satyr or god, young or old, man or woman; Venetian masks were a subversive response to one of the most rigid class hierarchies in European history; African masks hugely influenced Picasso’s revolutionary ‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon’; ‘V for Vendetta’ Guy Fawkes masks were a ubiquitous feature of the Occupy era.  Today’s Facebook age has social media ‘masks’ that portray cheery pictures of full lives of contentment and achievement concealing mishaps, setbacks or flaws.

Fifty mask images, of mostly twentieth century figures, line the gallery walls.  Appearances are deceptive – what initially appear to be photos, actually use a range of techniques including intricate drawing, crayon, watercolour as well as deft photo-shopping.  Some are black and white, others in colour.  The punched out eyes, varying in size and character, of the masks inherently produce a dead eyed, glassy glare, removing human warmth with blankness.  Despite this, some of the pictures retain a benign aspect – including Orwell - sans eyes, Big Brother isn’t watching you? - the Dalai Lama, Stalin, in ‘Uncle Joe’ mode rather than that of murderous despot – the cult of personality as variant of the cult of celebrity, and an avuncular Nixon, a mask of whom was used in a bank heist scene in the film ‘Point Break’.  Without eyes, Pele and Frank Zappa take on a decidedly belligerent air.  Marie Curie appears to (aptly) assume X-ray eyes.

Some themes are apparent.  There are several images of Artists as Art. Duchamp, one of these, would surely approve; sometimes using the techniques associated with that Artist, such as watercolour for Hockney.  Damien Hirst, has ‘PRODUCT’ scrawled graffiti-style on his face and his lips appear sewn together, a critique of one whose artistic integrity is corrupted by mammon.  The cold, menacing image of Myra Hindley seems to allude to Marcus Harvey’s infamous portrait.  Musicians are a prominent presence. The biro-blue of William Burrough’s picture reflects Burrough’s shambolic writing method.  Many of the pictures are of iconoclasts who are now icons - Wilde, Malcolm X, Dylan, Picasso, Simone.    

Several juxtapositions are striking.  A coarse, Super-8-textured image of JFK, with an extra bullet hole added, is near a black and white one of the last images of Lee Harvey Oswald, shortly to be assassinated himself.  Nixon smiles near the terrified face of a Vietnamese child.  A saccharine, almost kitsch, Christ stands close to Lennon, bringing to mind that latter’s then controversial remark that “We’re [the Beatles] more popular than Jesus”.  Some iconic fictional figures are present – the pared down Clockwork Orange is especially effective and memorable.

One of the most disturbing images is that of Jimmy Saville, whose ghoulish black and white face, redolent of an almost fairy tale evil, wears rose-tinted glasses to chilling effect.  Another horrific image is that of 2nd Lieutenant Henry Lumley, whose grievous first world war wounds still shock and appal.   

The exhibition is one of unsettling art for unsettling times. Trump, in all his orange, poisoned open-mouthed glory, is, with grim inevitability, one of the 50, and was selected before his shock victory.  With its thoughtful blend of reflection, comment and protest the show merits a wide audience.

Exhibit A is at Rich MIx, Shoreditch, London until 29 January, exhbitin details and times here 

After the eating and drinking, the sporty?

27.12.16

A selection of 2017 sporting reads by Mark Perryman for the post-festive recovery period

There’s nothing like Christmas to put on an inch or two where we don’t want to.  Sitting in front of the TV for hours, days even, on end doesn’t help much either. For many, a New Years resolution to add more physical activity to the weekly routine of eat, sleep, work, repeat is the self-imposed antidote.  So what better time to recommend a sporting title to the 2017 must-read list?

Anthony Clavane’s  A Yorkshire Tragedy is the best possible starting point for such an endeavour combining as it does social history and an insight into why both participants and spectators put themselves though the trials and tribulations of winning and losing. And no you don’t have to be from God’s own county to side with the author’s appreciation of Yorkshire grit either.  Or for an alternative explanation of the special appeal of sport try Sports Geek by Rob Minto which in words, statistics and pictures explains what it is about sport that will provoke endless arguments in the coming year.

No sport comes close to football in the breadth and ferocity of such arguments it provokes. For everyone who loves a club there’ll be others who loath it. Europe’s ‘super clubs’ provide such emotional splits in abundance, Uli Hesse’s  Bayern : Creating a Global Superclub provides the story of one such club known throughout the Bundesliga as 'FC Hollywood' for the non-German reader. Or for unpicking what it is about Argentine football that appeals and appals in almost equal measure read Angels with Dirty Faces by Jonathan Wilson, one of those writers who writes about the familiar in the most unfamiliar of ways. Every now and then an individual player comes along who transcends almost all loyalties to inspire universal interest and irresistible admiration. Johan Cruyff was undoubtedly one such player and his posthumously published autobiography My Turn helps us to understand why. Cruyff passed away in 2016, another kind of passing away that was no less emotional than the loss of a footballing great was West Ham’s move from their beloved ground to the super stadium built for the 2012 London Olympics. A move chronicled with sensitivity and sensibility in Pete May’s Goodbye to Boleyn.  It was a move that provoked much controversy in terms of public subsidy, sporting legacy, access, community and more. The Routledge Handbook of Football Studies is testament to the necessity of recognising this kind of context in which the game is played and watched and as such is surely destined to become the definitive academic text on the subject. A more lyrical approach to football’s qualities is provided by Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard in his elegantly written Home and Away.  For the dark side of world football there’s no better source of understanding the going wrongs at FIFA than the peerless John Sugden and Alan Tomlinson, Football, Corruption and Lies revisits their earlier writing on this subject. A read and argument that not only has served the test of time but has been proved absolutely right too. . 

Football at its best however means we can always dream of something better. Duncan Alexander’s Opta Joe’s Football Yearbook will become I’m sure an annual classic to distinguish the fantasy of football’s dreamers from the statistical reality. But then we will always have the fairtyale of Leicester 2015-16 , retold brilliantly by Rob Tanner in 5000-1.

The international stage for England at any rate has been more horror than fantasy pretty much since World Cup 2010 onwards. Steve Mingle provides a reminder of happier, more successful times in When England Ruled the World At least in 2017 there are no tournaments for England to make an early exit from.  In contrast Don’t Take Me Home by Bryn Law is the story of  semi-finalists’ Wales successful run at Euro 2016 through the tales of the team’s huge and boisterous travelling support.  England’s men’s women meanwhile have Euro 2017 to look forward to and as World Cup semi-finalists this century, 2015, unlike their male counterparts ,who haven’t made it that far in any tournament since 1996, they remain serious contenders.  Carrie Dunn’s Roar of the Lionesses  is the unrivalled account of the rise, and rise, of an England women’s football team to the top of their game.

Following football however cannot be reduced to World Cups, Euros, the Champions and rich runners up League, your Chelseas, Uniteds and Cities. Need a 2017 football New Year’s Resolution? Why not try a game in a city you’ve never visited at a club you don’t know?

For those with such internationalist ambitions Stuart Fuller’s The Football Tourist, his second volume of such epic travelling tales, is the very necessary handbook for overseas trip ideas and inspiration.  If the domestic gam is likely to suffuie in providing  2017 reinvigoration of a love of football the photography and accompanying text in Beyond the Turnstiles by Leon Gladwell is just the kind of cure required.  Many of Leon’s photos feature the non-league game, a portion of the game of increasing appeal to the disillusioned  and no better book has ever explained the reasons why than Nige Tassell’s The Bottom Corner.  Fed up with football as a day trippers’ day out, never off the TV, players on the front pages for all the wrong reasons, the riches and greed. Despite Leicester none of this will be getting any better in 2017. Read Nige’s book, if not already a fan, give one of the clubs he visited a try out, my own Lewes FC gets a tasty mention, and ensure yourself a happier new year.

The basic appeal of football, or any other sport is the fulfilment of impossible dreams. Few will ever come close to Jo Pavey’s story in that regard. An elite athlete for her entire adult life and a big chunk of her adolescence too Jo won her first ever Gold Medal at the age of 40, This Mum Runs is her story.  For most of us though running is more about just getting round, perhaps a Pb, and a prized finishers’ medal too. This is what continues to make running races such mass participation events which for many have little or no connection to the competitive. Don’t Stop Me Now by Vassos Alexander provides story after compelling story from every level of athletic prowess to reveal the enduring attraction and challenge of completing a 26.2 mile marathon with or without time to spare.

The GB 1980s jogging boom has a lot of parallels with the cycling revolution of the past five years or more. Elite Olympian success, easy to access sport, mainly recreational but with mass participation events for those who prefer a competitive edge yet even these are relatively unstructured and informal.  The fashion designer Paul Smith’s Cycling Scrapbook is a beautifully produced account of the visual culture of cycling that has proved seductive enough for men who really should know better to kit themselves out in lycra. Magnum Cycling with text by Guy Andrews has an array of, mainly archive, photography that will persuade almost anyone that road cycling is simply the most photogenic of all sports, bar none. Camille J McMillan’s Circus does a similar job with modern day cycling, the incredible sight of Le Tour on the road as engaging as it has ever been.  A key part of the look is of course what the riders wear , The Art of the Jersey by Andy Storey  provides a richly well-informed history of this most essential, and colourful, piece of any cyclist’s kit. Apart from that it’s all about the bike, or in Lance Armstrong’s case who made the phrase his own it turned out it wasn’t. Lined up on the road in the peloton, breakaways, bunch sprint finishes and the rest it can all get hellishly complicated to follow. Fortunately ITV4 have recruited one of the finest double acts of sports reporter and former star in any televising of a sport, Chris Boardman and Ned Boulting. They both have new books out which explain their appeal as presenters and why they work so well together on air. Triumphs and Turbulence is Chris’s autobiography from Olympic success in ‘92 to businessman and broadcaster today. Ned’ s Vélosaurus   helps the reader to understand the universally French language of Le Cycling with wit and insight, s’il vous plait. But of course with cycling watching is not even half the story, it is what we can do that really counts. What other sport can be a means of getting to work, carrying the shopping home, excuse for a day out with the kids or holiday even. The binary divide of recreation vs competition demolished. Though we’d all like to cycle uphill minus the puff mind. Never mind buying an electric bike as the solution RideStrong by Jo McRae is a handbook of do-it-at-home exercises to condition our bodies for faster and longer rides in 2017.

Next year will close with an ‘away’ Ashes series in Australia with most of England’s test cricket between now and then seen as a build up to this most serious of grudge matches.  Jon Hotten’s The Meaning of Cricket is the perfect companion volume to explain why the long wait will be more than worth it.

In terms of GB sporting success in 2016 nothing came very much close to the Gold, Silver and Bronze haul at the Rio Olympics and an historic third place in the Medal Table, helped it has to be said though by the justifiable yet significant absence of most of the Russian team.  The Impact of the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games edited by Kevin Dixon and Tom Gibbons details the significance, or otherwise, of such Olympian success by looking back to the previous, ‘home’ Games and their meaning today.   Then before you know it the 2018 Winter Games will be upon us and then Tokyo 2020. The Olympic Cycle is never-ending, hardly giving any space for reflection and critical analysis. Providing plenty of the latter and helping perhaps to prevent all the excitement over the success of Rio’s Team GB obscuring  2017’s sinking levels of sports participation Understanding the Olympics by John Horne and Garry Whannel provides a good read for those whom the next sporting year will include a fond looking back to Rio while wondering hat all those medals won will mean for the rest of us in 2017. . 

But it isn’t just the quadrennial Olympics that should ignite the need to engage with the collision between the sporting and the political. The Routledge Handbook of Sport and Politics is broad-ranging, comprehensive and incisive in its cataloguing of how this mix happens and shapes so much of life beyond the arena.

Beyod all these good, but serious, reads my New Year treats will include a strip-cartoon, a spot of colouring in, a novel and the first of a splendid new seris of sports books for children. The Illustrated History of Football by David Squires is a comic-book style approach to where our much-fabled ‘People’s Game’ came from and how it’s ended up.  With an adult colouring book we can create our own such books, providing hours of endless drawing fun.Two sporting versions of the format that stand out are Colouring the Tour de France by James Nunn and William Fotheringham  with its attention to historic detail. And Richard Mitchelson’s Grand Tour featuring a vast array of artistic games and puzzles to provide hours of endless fun while waiting for the cold, dark wintry morning to clear before the joys of a springtime ride. Alternatively, another very very good football novel from Anthony Cartwright  Iron Towns  set, more of less, in the Midlands’ Black Country. Few authors manage to combine sport and fiction with any degree of success, Cartwright does, superlatively well.  Don’t let the grown-ups have all the fun either. Football School by Alex Bellos and Ben Lyttleton will appeal to Primary School-age children via the cunning use of football as the means of learning. 

And for the kitchen? Yes sport and the pleasures of eating can be combined though very few cookbooks make that link. Hannah Grant’s The Grand Tour Cookbook does with an imaginative device of a stage race through recipes to fuel the cycling body, and suitable for most other endurance sports’ too. This will be one of my favourite reads in 2017.

But my top sports book choice as a New Year must-read has to be Games without Frontiers by Joe Kennedy. Not long, but packed into its 132 pages is an analysis and context to help us understand football, sport,and just about everything in-between via political theory and cultural studies and a fine writing style. Read it before January’s out and the rest of the sporting year will I can assure you make a heap more sense.

Note: No links in this review to Amazon, if you can avoid buying from tax dodgers please do so.

Mark Perryman is the co-founder of the self-styled ‘sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction’ aka Philosophy Football

 

'If We Want It' Our 2016 Christmas Message

23.12.16

At Philosophy Football we make the claim 'We don't sell T-shirts.' Instead we are in the business of ideas and ideals printed on to 100% cotton, double-stitched, sizes small-XXL and won't fade or shrink despite numerous spin cycles. Testament to that is the £1580 we raised in 2016 for Hope not Hate in memory of Jo Cox via our Hope not Hate T-shirt while this Christmas we've donated £740 to Cuba Solidarity for Fidel thanks to sales of our Fidel T-shirt plus another £385 for the Hastings Furniture Service helping the homeless settle back into housing via Mark Thomas' Domestic Extremist tee.

In short we create designs not products.We've put some of the best of these from 2016 together with images produced by others we admire and sometimes work with too, added a Louis Armstrong soundtrack and turned it into a non-regal Christmas message you won't have to interrupt the turkey or nut roast to watch. Enjoy, with our seasonal compliments and New Year thanks. 

An End to Humbugism

03.12.16

Mark Perryman provides a seasonal round-up of the best books to cheer up the radical spirit

From #chaoticbrexit to the triumph of Trump via the summertime Labour coup. 2016 will be a year to forget for many  who cling on to an optimism that a better tomorrow remains not only necessary but possible too. The toxicity of racism , the brutal closure of the Calais refugee camp, the political murder of Jo Cox, the human disaster unfolding in Syria and ever-increasing landmass temperatures signalling the onward march of Climate Change.  More than enough to have us all digging into our pockets for the humbugs while giving the holly and the ivy this year a miss. But there’s another side to all of that, for every setback there’s a fightback and in and amongst the mix more than enough to keep at least a semblance of belief in a radically different future. There’s always next year after all.

Britain, across Europe, the USA progressives are now up against a Populist Right, which requires a Populist  Left in response. The Populist Explosion by John  B. Judis is a richly analytical account of the similarities and differences of what this year emerged as a global phenomenon of racist reaction while Europe in Revolt edited by Catarina Príncipe and Bhaskar Sunkara reveal the resources of hope an insurgent European left provides. For the prospects of  ‘what might have been’  read  Our Revolution by Bernie Sanders and imagine what a President Trump-free 2017 might have looked like.  

Such an alternative right now however remains at a very low ebb. Books that begin to map out the beginnings of a journey back are needed more than ever. Fortunately 2016 began to provide a good variety of such handy volumes. Now out in paperback Paul Mason’s Postcapitalism  remains for many the best of the bunch and for those who don’t have it already a must-have for any Christmas radical reads shopping list.  A personal favourite for the combination of design, format and writing is ABCs of Socialism edited by Bhaskar Sunkara.  A book to bring the optimist back to earth is The Corruption of Capitalism by Guy Standing, pioneer of the ‘precariat’ analysis, who continues his well-studied research  to reveal the transformation  of work being effected via the rentier economy.  An updated edition of the trailblazing Inventing the Future  from Nick Srnicek and Alex  Williams provides a manifesto of change to counter the miserable terms and conditions Standing’s ‘precariart’  are forced to endure. But of course these conditions aren’t created simply by the world of work, edited by Jeremy Gilbert Neoliberal Culture provides a much-needed breadth of critique that takes our understanding of the neoliberalism beyond any tendency to cling on to a workerist model  of explanation.  Taking a similarly broad scope is author Mark Greif, the title of his new book rather gives this away, Against Everything, the perfect seasonal gift for oppositionalists everywhere, not that they will appreciate the gesture, being against such fripperies after all.  

After that little lot the season of not enough goodwill and too little peace may require a bit of cheer-me-up.  The Candidate by Alex Nunns should do precisely that for the convinced Corbynite with an account in riveting detail of Jeremy Corbyn’s rise to power which reads more like a thriller than a chronicle, and that’s a compliment by the way! And for the year ahead those plotting the downfall of Corbyn’s opposition from the Labour Right have the perfect Christmas present in the way of David Osland’s rewrite of the activist classic How to Select or Reselect Your MP.  The annual Socialist Register 2017 edition is entitled Rethinking Revolution with a range of fresh thinking on a great theme ranging from Corbynism , the European Left and South Africa’s ANC to radical change in Bolivia plus a range of essays questioning the legacy of 1917’s revolutionary model.   

Of course in 2017 there’ll be no escaping the centenary of the Russian Revolution.  Get ready to make it a revolutionary New Year with the classic dissident account, Victor Serge’s Year One of the Russian Revolution or for a wholly original approach treat yourself to the brilliant comic-strip style approach of 1917: Russia’s Red Year by Tim Sanders and John Newsinger.  Quite the quirkiest account of 1917 I’ve read though, and all the better for it is Catherine Merridale’s incredibly original Lenin on the Train which describes Lenin’s journey to the revolution as a kind of communist version of great rail journeys, superb.  The latest edition of my favourite journal Twentieth Century Communism has a particular interest in communist nostalgia ranging over instances of this perhaps not very quaint phenomenon in Romania, Italy Greece and elsewhere. Without decrying the historical significance of the  Russian Revolution there are plenty of other starting points for the revolutionary impulse. The Leveller Revolution from John Rees expertly and passionately describes the tumultuous times of the 1640s English Civil War as one such starting point.  Not exactly a year of revolution but one of change nevertheless David Stubbs in 1996 & The End Of History chooses the year of Blur, Oasis, Three Lions and the eve of Blair as PM to entertainingly conclude that those particular twelve months were a kind of start for what became postmodern Britain.

To understand the evolution of an historical tradition of thought and action there’s no better collection than the recently re-issued Antonio Gramsci Reader. This peerless thinker and revolutionary ’s writings 1916-1935 remain the single most important application of 1917 to the world after  WWI coinciding with the rise of interwar fascism, moreover they have stood the test of time better than most.  A new collection of Eric Hobsbawm’s writings on Latin America Viva La Revolucion is a wonderful way to explore how interpreting the world can enable us to change the world, to kind of misquote Marx.  Today such a philosophy, what was once called praxis, finds many different expressions in varied locations and situations.  One example is activist-photography on the frontline between the state of Israel and Palestinian resistance  which is the subject of Activestills edited by Vered Maimon and Shiraz Grinbaum.  

In 2016, as in 2015 and 2014 were too the pivot of radical change on this island remains Scotland. Voted against #ToryBrexit , for a social-democratic and green majority in favour of Scottish independence, led by the most impressive by far of all domestic party leaders. It is no surprise then that writing on Scotland and its politics produces some of the most thoughtful insights either north of, or all points south, of the border. Neil Davidson’s latest collection of richly intellectual essays Nation-States reinforces his reputation as the most creative author currently writing out of the Marxist tradition on the theories and intersections of a nationalist politics. Davidson’s writing combines critical analysis with a grand global overview. Scotland the Bold by Gerry Hassan is focussed more specifically on Scotland yet this liberates rather than restricts Gerry’s radical imaginary which he brilliantly applies to the present and future of this most turbulent of nations. 

The dark side of versions of nationalism rooted not in liberation but blood and soil are covered in two powerfulyl critical memoirs. Gaby Weiner’s Tales of Loving and Leaving deserves to become a modern classic. This is a book that expertly yet effortlessly weaves family and generation into two of the most epic events of the Twentieth Century, the Russian Revolution and Hitler coming to power while linking both to a consequence that we continue to live with in the 21st, mass migration.  Fascist in the Family is the kind of title to get the reader to sit up and take notice before they’ve even started thumbing through the pages. Left-wing writer Francis Beckett retells the story of his father, elected as Labour’s youngest MP at the 1924 General Election he became one of Oswald Mosley’s key allies in the British Union of Fascists until he found even this lot not Nazi enough and helped found the National Socialist League. Told with a brutal honesty, a book of horrific tragedy.

To add some fiction over the holiday break Andrew Smith’s The Speech . Taking as its starting point the real-life Enoch Powell  ‘Rivers of Blood’ tirade Smith engages with themes of culture and community to reveal a  fictional plot rooted in reality and hope. Originally published in the wake of Italy’s ‘Hot Autumn’ of 1969 the novel We Want Everything by Nanni Balestrini is both framed by this period of revolutionary youth culture but not trapped by it. As such, this is a novel of enduring inspiration as well as a riveting portrayal of revolt.  Europe today is a very different place to ’69 and for a chunk of the British electorate they can’t leave the continent quick enough. Bruno Vincent’s pastiche Enid Blyton story Five on Brexit Island is the near perfect stocking-filler for politicos, remainers or leavers alike.

But why should the grown-ups have all the best books? A new Michael Rosen is the highlight of almost any Christmas for younger readers and his latest Jelly Boots, Smelly Boots  will do anything but disappoint. Newly translated, An Elephantasy by Argentine children’s author María Elena Walsh combines surrealism and humour via an adventure that is every bit as revealing as it is funny.

Even post Bake Off sell-off Christmas is arguably more than almost anything else a culinary event. For those looking to go past the Delias and Jamies three cookery books to expand any chef’s horizons.  Ideas to make a break with the traditonal yuletide fare, or simply spice up mealtimes the whole year round, are aplenty in Meera Sodha’s new book Fresh India. Looking beyond Christmas the latest Leon book Happy Salads by Jane Baxter and John  Vincent will have any wannabe chef eagerly awaiting Spring to try out the vast range of recipes offered for warmer days. Substantially updated and entirely redesigned the second edition  of Laila Ed-Haddad and Maggie Schmitt’s The Gaza Kitchen  is internationalism as you eat. History, politics and delicious recipes for those who like to cook up some solidarity.

For agifts to put under the tree for the activist who is anti-consumerist until he, or she, realises that means no pressies we recommend the new edition of Verso’s Book Of Dissent will have ‘em whooping with revolutionary delight not just on the 25th but for the next twelve months too.  Or if a different kind of inspiration is required one from Michael Rosen for all from young adults to fully fledged grown-ups, What is Poetry?  An easy-to-follow guide to both reading and writing poems, perfect for those with the secret ambition of  releasing the inner rhyming couplet. Though our favourite gift is another from Verso, their 2017 Radical Diary destined to resurrect the annual Big Red Diary that some of a certain political age will remember with fondness. Luxurious design,  historical dates and details, quotes, illustrated throughout, it has enough to turn the most dogged pessimist into an  optimist for the year ahead.  

And our book of the seasonal quarter, our number one for Santa’s red list? Well we have two not one because we’ve chosen a theme and there is a pair such outstanding titles it has proved impossible to separate them so we recommend splashing out and getting both.  Trump, Farage the #brexit fallout, has seen a revival of a right wing populism built round a naked racism, and with Le Pen 2017 could be worse still. What we desperately need is a popular anti-racism, not talking to each other to confirm our own opinions but to reach out, not pandering to the haters and the misinformed but conversing  and where required challenging too.  Daniel Rachel’s superb Walls Come Tumbling Down chronicles one such effort, via music, from Rock against Racism via 2-Tone to Red Wedge.  A period when pop and politics, including Labour, learned how to work together towards what both understood in different ways as the common good. But no such effort would have been remotely possible without the singular experience of Rocking against Racism a story now retold via Reminiscences of RAR  edited by two who set it all up, Red Saunders and Roger Huddle. This a book full of such sublime enthusiasm and vision it can only leave the reader wondering why nothing remotely like it has come again and what we can do in 2017 to make that happen. Daniel Rachel’s book will help convince us of the pitfalls of simply recreating the past, Roger and Red’s that despite this when culture and politics click anything is possible. Now that’s one Christmas present worth having.

Note  No links in this review to Amazon, if you can avoid buying from tax dodgers, please do so.

Mark Perryman is the co-founder of the self-styled ‘sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction’ aka Philosophy Football

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We Were Their Flowers in the Dustbin

26.11.2016

40 years ago today The Sex Pistols' Anarchy in the UK was released. Mark Perryman of Philosophy Football remembers.

For some of us of a certain age it still seems like yesterday. For others it is something to breathlessly boast to our children, or grandchildren, that yes, we were there. 26th November 1976, the Sex Pistols release their debut record Anarchy in the UK and for as long as the 7-inch single  (remember those?) was on the turntable (ditto) it was as if the world had changed, forever. 

Back in ’76 I was anything but a teenage muso. Whilst others raved about Pink Floyd, Bowie, Fleetwood Mac and the like I remained musically nonplussed. Meantime the teenybop phenomenon of David Cassidy, the Osmonds, the Bay City Rollers were as meaningless to me as their fictional televised version, The Partridge Family. Rock n Roll was growing old minus the disgracefulness bit. And then the Pistols appeared on London Weekend TV. I was about to have supper, my parents were in the kitchen and I was sent to the lounge to switch the television off. It was incredible, a bunch of misbehaving teenagers, the Pistols, Siouxsie Sioux, the Bromley contingent, telling the disbelieving presenter , Bill Grundy, exactly what they thought of him and his hated establishment with every swear word  that I knew enough shouldn’t be used in polite company let alone live on ITV. Thankfully my parents hadn’t heard what I’d heard but I had, every bit of it. My mind wasn’t exactly on supper that evening.

Their TV appearance not only catapulted the Sex Pistols into the headlines the musical movement they represented, punk, sparked a moral panic. Of course youth culture had done this before back in the 1950s with the Teddy Boys or the 1960s Mods vs Rockers and most recently early 1970s hippy psychedelia. But by the mid 1970s British politics was in such a state of flux this panic seemed to be of a different order entirely. The miners had been on strike not once, but twice, 1972 and ’74, defeating the Tory government on both occasions. The army were brought in, unsuccessfully, to break both the fire brigades and dustbin workers when they went on strike.  They failed. The fascist bootboys of the National Front were on the march and chalking up big votes too, facing fiercely ferocious opposition wherever they appeared. The Police were using ‘Sus’ laws, stop and search, provoking a militant backlash. And the opposition Conservative Party was describing immigration as ‘swamping’ our culture.

The Pistols, with their foul mouths, wilfully out-of-tune music and whining vocals, torn to shreds clothing and safety pins through their earlobes were a two-fingered response to any Establishment attempt to paper over the cracks of this crisis.  ‘ We’re the flowers in the dustbin, we’re the poison in your human machine.’ Most if us didn’t know the word at the time but this was a very English nihilism,. ‘Destroy’ as the Pistols’ sang and their T-shirts demanded.

The nihilism wasn’t politically located in any obviously Left v Right sense though the Left liked to think it was because Punks were against the same establishment they were opposed to as well.  With the National Front in the shadows there was no guarantee that this propensity to destroy would take a progressive dimension. Not helped either by the Punks’ readiness to wear the swastika as a symbol of  the anti-establishment, flirt with Nazi themes in the so-called cause of dissident art and the essential whiteness of the bands and most of their followers. What made this musical moment so special was that not only was any risk of punk’s nihilism becoming a popular force for ugly reaction firmly quashed but an alternative set of connections centred on being both anti-nazi and against racism erected in its place.

This was the unique achievement of late 1970s punk.  It became almost indivisible from Rocking against Racism, a movement shortly to be chronicled in a brilliant new book Reminiscences of RAR, and marching against the National Front behind the punked up slogan ‘ Nazis are No Fun.’  Make no mistake the nihilism of punk could have gone either way but it didn’t and a musical movement of change was created, from below, for perhaps the first, and disappointingly to date, the last time. More than any single band or performer The Sex Pistols were emblematic of that moment and the contradictions therein. They ignited the idea that just about anyone could form a band, put on a gig, write and publish a fanzine. Every city, town, village would generate its own version of what Punk was and might become. Rock against Racism fed into this, anybody could join because there was nothing to sign up to, no membership form, no committee, just a movement we made our own. A musical, and political, attitude that matched the needs and aspirations of each other. And without the Pistols none of that would have been possible  A bit of eff you with a lot of do-it-yourself. We meant it maaan… and still do !

Mark Perryman is the co-founder of the self-styled 'sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction, aka  Philosophy Football. Their range of 40th Anniversary Pistols’ T-shirts are launched today and available from here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Poppy for Our Thoughts

11.11.16

Ahead of  the England vs Scotland game Mark Perryman responds to FIFA’s Poppies ban

The last time England played Scotland in a competitive match at Hampden Park was also in November, 1999, it was preceded by none of the manufactured row about whether the teams should have poppies embroidered on their shirts.  The tabloids were more interested in a good old-fashioned football rivalry instead. The Sun greeting the fixture with the headline ‘Jocks Away’ while north of the border the Daily Record sought to put  England manager Kevin Keegan’ over-confidence in its place ‘Boastbusters’ with the unforgettable tagline ‘ Scots v The Auld Enemy : See Pages 2,3,4,5,6.7,62,63,64,65,66, 67 & 68.’ This was pre Salmond and Sturgeon, the irresistible rise of the SNP and the near wipeout of Scottish Labour MPs. And it was before UKip’s forward march too,. Culminating in #Torybrexit , a populist version of English nationalism against all things that Europe, and Scotland  seems to represent in terms of broadly social-democratic values versus a neoliberal free-for-all.

None of this entirely explains the row over the players’ wearing poppies but it does provide a context . It is the same with the emergence of a warped English patriotism that reduces the heroism and sacrifice of those who gave their lives to defend this country in World War Two to just another football chant ‘Two World Wars and One World Cup’ . Scarcely present in ’66 when England were beating West Germany in the final, with the Charlton brothers in the side who had vivid memories of growing up during bombing raids on Tyneside while a decent chunk of England’s support in the stands were of an age who’d fought in that war too. Instead the chants emerged after England’s loss to West Germany on penalties at Italia ’90, cranked up again by the same result to the same opponents at Euro ’96. And all this during an era when euroscepticism  led by John Major’s ‘bastards’ opposition on the Tory benches emerged to force a key dividing line in British politics.

This is the context for the current row . An act of remembrance is not of itself political. But who are we rememberjng? What did they fight for ? Where did they come from to join that fight? The clue is in the title of the two conflicts being marked World Wars One and Two.  Britain had a special role as combatants in both but we were not alone. The teams of France, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Norway, or from further field the Commonwealth countries, the USA, USSR are not clamouring to wear a poppy on their shirts this November. When it becomes all about just the home nations while playing internationals the meaning inevitably changes.

FIFA bans all political symbols from adorning any national kits.  The Irish are threatened with being punished for embroidering the Easter Rising centenary on to theirs. Almost every FIFA-affiliated country could make a similar case from South Africa and Israel via Armenia and Palestine to Syria and the Ukraine. The Tuesday after England play Scotland they take on Spain in the 80th anniversary year of British and others countries’ volunteers travelling to Spain to join the defence of the Spanish Republic against Franco’s fascists. Is the FA suggesting the England team wear something to mark this special moment of solidarity between our two countries? No, no such suggestion. Some symbols are OK. Others not, a choice made by politics.   

We cannot escape the fact that sport is political, it is a contest just like the one on the pitch.  Currently in American sport there is a growing movement of athlete-activism . The NFL player Colin Kaepernick kneeling respectfully but defiantly during the playing of the National Anthem because for millions of Americans, despite Trump, #BlackLivesMatter. When USA Women’s Football  International, World Cup winner and Olympic Football Gold medallist Megan Rapinoe did the same whilst representing her country she was doing something unheard of over here.

Or maybe not. Gary Lineker has been hounded by the tabloids for his views on refugees not just because for what he is saying, but for who he is and was. A footballer, with views, with politics ? What right does he have to hold such opinions?  But of course sport is full of opinions, some of which we agree with others we don’t.

I won’t attempt to predict the England v Scotland score but two things I can be certain of. There won’t be a single Union Jack waved by England fans whereas 50 years ago  when England hosted the World Cup the FA managed to get the host country’s flag wrong on all official publicity, the Union Jack not the St George Cross . And there will be plenty of chants inviting the Scots impolitely to stick Nicola Sturgeon somewhere rude. That last time these two teams met in a competitive match, back in '99, I doubt many could have named the SNP  leader let alone be much bothered about him.

My beef isn’t with the poppy nor acts of remembrance. The state-sanctioned patriotism serves to obscure the consequences of carnage from the causes of conflict but that is something to contest not retreat from.  The argument should be bigger than this  annual dust-up over the poppy. It is about breaking down the false division between sport and politics, to recognise that all sport is political, and for those of us with a progressive vision we have a role in shifting those politics on, and off the pitch, from the reactionary to our side, whatever team we support or none.

Mark Perryman is the co-founder of the self-styled ‘sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction’ aka Philosophy Football from where the 1914 Poppies Remembrance T-shirt is available.

 

 

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