Friday, May 11, 2012

Back Up The Antrim Road

I have recently finished Greil Marcus' short but extremely interesting 2010 overview of the music of Van Morrison which incorporates a cross-section of analysis of early Them tracks through to the classic live version of Caravan at The Band's The Last Waltz, an especially insightful commentary upon 1991's Take Me Back and on to The Healing Game album of 1997. 

Three tracks from Astral Weeks are also considered in detail - this standing as Morrison's classic reflection on time, space, loss, remembrance and closure and whose release at the commencement of the Ulster Troubles underscores the ethereal and haunted mood of introspection and insight grounded on the physical geography of a now fragmented Belfast City.

I mentioned some posts ago how the digital revolution has not only radically and irreversibly broken down the perameters of information and opinion dissemination - and particularly interview or lecture material from those regarded today as renegade political figures such as George Galloway or Nigel Farage - but has also opened unique pathways to fond or conversely pained remembrance of times past as alike the core underpinnings of Astral Weeks itself.

That dynamic certainly not having let up in the past week when I have come across the wonderful bubblegum soul of Liberia's finest The Soulful Dynamics and their Mademoiselle Ninette of 1970 through to the utterly extraordinary flamenco glam of Carmen's Bulerias as performed on David Bowie's 1973 The Midnight Special television feature. Carmen, along with Ireland's Horslips, being surely one of the most underrated groups in popular music history.

However nothing prepared me for discovering the Ulster Television start-up music from the Seventies and early Eighties and thus hearing The Antrim Road for the first time in perhaps three decades - a wonderful piece whose moods range from mischievous Celtic shadows to sweeping John Ford western panoramas.

This particular introduction is regarded as one of the finest of its ilk be to used across the Independent Television Authority at the time and commenced in 1971 when Northern Ireland society descended from chronic civil unrest to borderline civil war. The Antrim Road itself was the residential area where the Jewish community settled in the early to middle point of the last century - as noted in an earlier post - and was a very troubled and violent district in its urban stretches adjacent to Belfast city centre during the course of the conflict.

A fleeting two and a half minutes of mere commercial continuity music in esscence but yet something which immediately recalls both lost constructs of community and place alongside reflections of a people of humour, bravery and character.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

All Are Heroes In The End


Another much-renowned son of the English county of  Kent, alongside the recently referenced Zen philosopher Alan Watts, was of course bank manager and Captain of the Walmington-on-Sea Local Defence Volunteers - George Mainwaring.

The BBC television series Dad's Army ran for 12 series between 1968 and 1977 with an accompanying radio series, stage show and feature film. Of the seven main actors associated with the programme, James Beck - who played the resident "spiv" Joe - died in 1973 at the age of only 44.

The film version of the series released in 1970 received mixed reviews though time has been kind to it in hindsight and, along with the Steptoe and Son movies, is probably one of the better film adaptations of classic British Sixties and Seventies television comedy.

The film of course is rich in pathos and in three particularly moving and well-recalled sequences in particular. The opening of the movie shows the gallant and defiant Home Guard platoon on England's southern shoreline - Union Flag in hand and ready for battle - being ridiculed by a watching Wehrmacht general on the Pas de Calais to the accompaniment of the Horst Wessel Lied. Meanwhile Mainwaring's expressed surety, during a sunset talk with Sgt Wilson, that the British will fight down to a last bullet of honour for each man is qualified by a lack of ammunition for such a Kentish Twilight of the Gods. At the conclusion of the film in turn the platoon are back to the cliff top again and listening suspiciously for some cunning Nazi cross-channel mining device which could signify an imminent invasion of British sovereign territory.

Last week's local council elections across Austerity Britain, and the predictable sense of despair and discord at our national political stasis that the results produced, yet again underscored the grim likelihood of very little significant change ahead in the next decade. And indeed the scale of distance between a broken and greed-fixated Britain and a country that could once produce selfless and spirited public service of the like of the Home Guard or the Ulster Defence Regiment.

The credible right and left-wing critiques of these morose and anxious times from certain worthy commentators notwithstanding, modern British life has surely never found itself in such a time of total and open-ended political stagnation, social immobility and mad dog economic imbecility.

The sinister general at the start of Dad's Army who scoffed "How can those stupid British ever hope to win?" at Privates Godfrey, Pike, Frasier and Joansy the Butcher - in light of their no-doubt imminent incarceration in ghastly underground SS slave labour camps in Yorkshire or South Wales - didn't know the half of it after all in terms of what would lie ahead for that now vanished and truly great country.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

This Sporting Life

Truly wonderful news all round about the forthcoming rugby union European Cup Final between the Irish provinces of Ulster and Leinster. And likewise for the goodwill of certain national airlines in offering weekend return tickets from Belfast to London for £477.97 to marry the mood of this truly historic and empowering moment of national reconciliation. Viva Las Vegas yet again.

Talking of which I caught three interesting BBC Northern Ireland features last week on the glory years of sports success in the Seventies and Eighties. As mentioned in an earlier post, the sportsmen and women of Ulster brought unqualified pride to the country during very dark days indeed. This particular set of programmes included reference to yet more figures from the past such as boxers Dave Boy McCauley and Charlie Nash, golfer Ronan Rafferty, snooker player Dennis Taylor, athlete Mike Bull, Formula One's John Watson and the late road racer Tommy Herron.

It also included three very interesting pieces of football footage. There were very rare clips from the training session which preceded George Best's swansong for the national team - the extraordinary 2-2 draw against Holland in Rotterdam on 13th October 1976. This would prove to be his penultimate game for Northern Ireland while the match is oft-referenced to this day for his success in carrying out a pre-match threat to nutmeg Johann Cruyff during the game.

There were also earlier clips of the Northern Ireland team applauding the Yugoslavian side onto the Windsor Park pitch in  1975 for a European Championship qualifier - the first international match in the country since October 1971 and with home games having  been played on the British mainland in the interim because of the scale of civil unrest and terrorist threat. The narration certainly suggested that the Yugoslavian football authorities were under no obligation to travel to Belfast at this time in light of the decision of other national and international teams to not play there. A bold, brave and truly worthy gesture in hindsight from another physically beautiful country that would tragically face its own sectarian nemesis over a decade and a half later.

Lastly the programme included brief footage of an even earlier Seventies Irish League championship decider at The Oval ground in East Belfast between Linfield and Glentoran. It showed the winning goal from Linfield's Eric Magee and then the pitch invasion at the final whistle. The upbeat and stock retro narration accompanying this clip tending to sit in some considerable contrast to the Linfield fan hitting a departing Glentoran player around the head with a Union Jack-adorned flagpole and thus leaving the assaulted invidual to leave the pitch with his hands upon his bruised cranium.

Shame that the BBC intern who cut or complied this edit didn't take notice at the time as it would have sat perfectly well in last Monday's Dominic Sandbrook Seventies documentary and the sub-section on the Droog-like scary football hooligan ultras of yore.