I have been visiting WOMAD — World of Music, Arts and Dance, the world music festival established by Peter Gabriel and a number of colleagues in 1982 — as an artist since 2002, helping my wife run children’s workshops with a number of other friends, and this year our posse — eight adults, five teenagers and two children — survived the rainiest WOMAD in our collective experience, although it couldn’t dampen our spirits, or that of WOMAD as a whole. (See here and here for my photos from 2012, and here for 2014).
WOMAD has been based at Charlton Park in Wiltshire, in the grounds of a stately home, since 2007, notorious in WOMAD’s history as the year when the new site was churned up before the festival even began and turned into an unparalleled mudfest as soon as the festival-goers arrived. This year wasn’t quite as arduous as 2007, but it wasn’t far off. Friday began and ended with rain (often torrential), and although Saturday was sunny, it began raining again on the Sunday and didn’t let up much for the rest of the day — although there was a wonderful interlude when the sun shone for the children’s procession, an annual highlight of the festival.
So while we were inconvenienced and tested by the weather, we continued to take in the great music that is always on offer, and this year my discoveries included Pascuala Ilabaca, a Chilean singer and accordion player, with the voice of an angel, the powerful African reggae singer Tiken Jah Fakoly, and the Atomic Bomb! Band playing the music of the reclusive Nigerian funk star William Onyeabor, while old faves included the Tuareg desert blues of Tinariwen. Read the rest of this entry »
UPDATE: Unfortunately, due to an emergency involving the radio station’s management, the show cannot take place, as there will be no one at the station, and one of Hamja’s previous shows will be played instead. Apologies for any inconvenience. I will try and reschedule.
On Sunday, at 3pm GMT (that’s 10am Eastern Time), I’ll be hosting a two-hour radio show on One Harmony Radio, an online community radio station in Brockley, south east London, where I live. I’m standing in for activist/curator Hamja Ahsan, who has to attend Eid celebrations.
Here’s One Harmony Radio‘s website, so please listen online at 3pm on Sunday!
I appeared on the show with Hamja on June 28, and had a great time, reading from my books The Guantánamo Files , The Battle of the Beanfield and Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion, playing some of my favourite songs — including a number of roots reggae classics — and also playing “Fighting Injustice,” a song I wrote that is featured on my band The Four Fathers‘ debut album, “Love and War” — available for just £7/$11, which can be sent anywhere in the world. Read the rest of this entry »
I’m pleased to announce that I’ve just taken delivery of the first batch of CDs of ‘Love and War’, the debut album by my band The Four Fathers. Featuring ten tracks — seven originals, two covers and a radical reworking of an old English folk song — ‘Love and War’ is available to buy for just £7/$11, plus postage and packing (£1.25 in the UK, £2.95 for Europe and £3.65 for the US and the rest of the world). Copies can be sent anywhere in the world.
The album, recorded, mixed and mastered in south east London from November 2014 to June 2015, features six of my original songs, including ‘Song for Shaker Aamer’, which is featured in the campaign video for We Stand With Shaker, the campaign calling for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, which I established with the activist Joanne MacInnes last November — and see here for our open letter to President Obama for US Independence Day. For anyone who doesn’t know, I have been researching and writing about Guantánamo and campaigning to get the prison closed down since 2006.
Also included are other new songs I have written recently — ‘Tory Bullshit Blues’, which was made available via SoundCloud just before the General Election in May, the love song ‘Sweet Love and Ever After’, and ‘Fighting Injustice’, a storming roots reggae number that also fulfils the band’s description of itself as playing “Rock, folk, blues and roots reggae. Not afraid of political engagement.” Read the rest of this entry »
I’m delighted to report that, today, US Independence Day (July 4), the following open letter to President Obama, calling for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, was published by the Guardian, on its website, which has seven million readers worldwide, and picked up on by the Daily Mail, Sky News and ITV News. Also see this Guardian article (a version of which was published in the newspaper), accompanying the publication of the letter.
I wrote the letter for the We Stand With Shaker campaign , which I founded, with the activist Joanne MacInnes, in November, and Jo has spent the last few weeks assiduously securing signatures. Celebrity supporters include Sir Patrick Stewart OBE, Ralph Fiennes, Russell Brand, Roger Waters, Peter Gabriel, Sting, Richard E. Grant, Mark Rylance, Juliet Stevenson, David Morrissey, Frankie Boyle, Ken Loach, Mike Leigh and Michael Brearley.
Late yesterday afternoon, we secured the support of Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, who joined dozens of other MPs, including two former Attorney Generals, Keir Starmer and Dominic Grieve, and the six MPs who lead the cross-party Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group: the co-chairs, John McDonnell (Lab.) and David Davis (Con.), and the four officers of the group: Andrew Mitchell (Con.), Jeremy Corbyn (Lab.), Caroline Lucas (Green) and Andy Slaughter (Lab.). Read the rest of this entry »
If you’re around on Sunday, between 3pm and 5pm GMT, you can listen to me reading from my books and playing some of my favourite music with human rights activist and arts curator Hamja Ahsan (DIY Cultures), who has a show, DIY Sunday Radio, every Sunday afternoon (UK time) on One Harmony Radio, based in Brockley, south east London, where I live.
Hamja became a campaigner because his brother, Talha, a talented poet with Asberger’s Syndrome, was imprisoned without charge or trial in the UK for six years pending extradition to the US, and was then extradited, spending two years in a Supermax prison before a judge sentenced him to time served and sent him home. See the campaign’s Facebook page here.
One Harmony Radio, which mainly plays reggae music, is a community internet radio station, so you can listen to my show from anywhere in the world! The Facebook page is here.
Happy summer solstice, everyone! I thought I might visit megalithic Wiltshire this year, for my first solstice visit in 10 years, but the anti-austerity march in London — and my desire to attend it — rather put paid to that plan. My hoped-for destination was Avebury, the village built in the remains of a colossal stone circle, roughly 20 miles north of Stonehenge, which awakened — or rather reawakened — my interest in all things megalithic from 1996, when a chance visit with my new girlfriend (and now wife) Dot led to such enthusiasm on my part that I devoted much of the next ten years to visiting ancient sacred sites all over England, and in Scotland, Malta and Brittany.
I also wrote two books in this period, after my original plan failed to find a publisher. That project was, “Stonehenge and Avebury: Pilgrimages to the Heart of Ancient England,” and it was based on three long-distance walks I made with Dot and other friends in 1997 and 1998, along the Ridgeway from the Thames to Avebury, and then an eight-day trek through Wiltshire to Stonehenge, from Dorchester in Dorset, which I christened “The Stonehenge Way,” and another walk of my devising from Stonehenge to Avebury.
I hope one day to revive that particular project, but what happened in 2002 was that I was encouraged to focus on one particular aspect of the book — the Stonehenge Free Festival, my first inspiration when it came to ancient sacred sites. As a student, I had visited the festival in 1983 and 1984, and had found my view of the world transformed by this gigantic anarchic jamboree that filled the fields opposite Stonehenge every June. The photo above is from 1975, the second festival, and is from the Flickr site of Basil and Tracy Brooks. Basil played with Zorch, who played at both of the first two festivals, in 1974 and 1975. See the albums here and here. Read the rest of this entry »
Today I was delighted to attend the huge anti-austerity march in central London on June 20 organised by the People’s Assembly Against Austerity. Although the weather was indifferent, the turnout wasn’t, and around 250,000 people marched from the Bank of England to Parliament Square to show the many, many reasons ordinary, hard-working British people have for despising the Tory government, who, in May’s General Election, won over 50% of the seats, with just over 36% of the votes, cast, and the support of less than a quarter of those eligible to vote. See my article here about the need for a new voting system involving proportional representation.
I arrived by bike in central London after the march had set off, meeting it on Fleet Street and spending some time on the Strand watching the marchers go by, which was where I realised quite how big it was, as the people — cheerful but with a sense of intent and a plethora of excellent hand-made placards — just kept coming. I hope the message that comes through strongly from today’s event is not only a message to the government — that more and more of us are waking up, and we are not happy about what is happening, but also to the organisers of today, and to the unions, who supported it: we need events like this to take place on a regular basis, at least every six months, if not every three, so we can keep showing solidarity with each other, and also to keep demonstrating it to the government.
The Tories’ austerity programme, which has involved massive cuts to the public sector and to the welfare state, including the NHS, and attacks on the unemployed and the disabled, is driven not by need but by a malignant ideology — the desire to privatise almost everything (but not their own salaries, of course) for the benefit of the private sector, often using taxpayers’ money to achieve their ends, and often benefitting them directly, as they are involved in the companies making a profit. Read the rest of this entry »
Since the Tories got back into power, without even needing the Lib Dems for a coalition, thanks to the unfairness of the “first past the post” voting system, the largely corrupt and biased British media and the propensity of voters outside Scotland to vote Tory (and UKIP) in slightly larger numbers than Labour and the Green Party, it is obvious that any of us who care about society, community, the welfare state, the NHS, social housing, the working class, the poor, the unemployed, the disabled, Muslims and immigrants have a huge fight on our hands for the next five years — unless, as is to be hoped, the Tories manage to tear themselves apart.
I confess that I was reassured that, the moment it became obvious that, with the support of just 24.4% of the electorate and 36.9% of those who voted, the Tories had managed to secure 50.8% of the seats in the General Election on May 7, spontaneous protests took place in London and Cardiff.
I think we need to be on the streets as much as possible, to show our discontent, and to remind ourselves that we are not alone, and I hope that the national anti-austerity protest in London on June 20, organised by the People’s Assembly Against Austerity, will be as big as possible. The Facebook page is here. Read the rest of this entry »
Dear friends and supporters,
Many of you, I’m sure, are, like me, self-employed — and will therefore understand that life regularly involves not knowing where your next pay check is coming from. For the last six years, I have relied on you to support me with donations — support that enables me to continue my work as an independent journalist, commentator and activist, specializing in Guantánamo and related issues and largely working online.
This is a modern story — only made possible through the internet, through blogging technology, and through your generosity, funding people you appreciate as an alternative to the old models of the mainstream media and payment derived from advertising and sales.
Since I launched my latest fundraiser on Monday, things have been moving slowly, I have to say. Earlier today, I had my fourth donation, but back in March, for example, over 30 people donated. Today’s supporter apologized for only being able to give $20 (£12), but no apology was required. Every donation — however large or small — is very generous, and, in addition, if everyone who reads my work and supports my campaigning gave me $20 — that’s just $1.50 or £1 a week for the next three months — I could wrap up this fundraiser now! Read the rest of this entry »
Dear friends and supporters,
Every three months I ask you, if you can, to support my work on Guantánamo by making a donation to support my work. I have been researching and writing about Guantánamo for over nine years, and I have been writing articles on an almost daily basis, and campaigning to get the prison closed, for just over eight years, beginning with a blog post I wrote on May 31, 2007, after a Saudi prisoner died, reportedly by committing suicide. In all this time, most of my work has been unpaid — and is only possible because of the support I receive from you.
If you support my work as a genuinely independent voice, unafraid to combine hard-hitting journalism with activism, and if you can help out at all, please click on the “Donate” button above to donate via PayPal (and I should add that you don’t need to be a PayPal member to use PayPal).
All contributions to support my work are welcome, whether it’s $25, $100 or $500 — or, of course, the equivalent in pounds sterling or any other currency. You can also make a recurring payment on a monthly basis by ticking the box marked, “Make This Recurring (Monthly),” and if you are able to do so, it would be very much appreciated. Read the rest of this entry »
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