A year ago, I wrote ‘Dreamers’, a song for the 50th birthday of a very good friend, Jen Owen, who I first met 20 years before. I played it for the first time at her birthday party in Stroud, in Gloucestershire, and then recorded it last September with my band The Four Fathers, and we’ve just released it online as the second single from our forthcoming second album, ‘How Much Is A Life Worth?’
‘Dreamers’ reflects on our wilder, younger years, and then progresses to look at how we came to be parents and how “we overcame some demons / And gained some wisdom somehow,” and it’s one of a number of songs I’ve written in which I attempt to grapple with getting older and what that means — something that, I find, very little popular music does, being generally fixated as it is with youth, even when those responsible for its creation have long passed their youthful days.
That said, one of the most poignant musical moments for me over the last few years was when David Bowie returned from long years of musical silence with his 2013 album, ‘The Next Day’, and the absolutely extraordinary ‘Where Are We Now?’ with its palpable sense of mortality, and its refrain about “walking the dead.” And then, in 2016, almost on the eve of Bowie’s death, came ‘Blackstar’, a song that felt like a requiem — as well as being one of the most profound pieces of popular music ever recorded. Read the rest of this entry »
31 years ago, I made a discovery that had some serious resonance for me — the existence of St. Patrick’s Day. It was March 17, 1986. I’d moved into a flat in London three months earlier, in December 1985, opposite the George Canning pub, where I had ventured on my first night, meeting up with squatters, from the roads behind the junction of Tulse Hill and Brixton Water Lane, who soon became my friends.
After three years in Oxford, I wanted as big a change as possible — somewhere in the real world, as far removed as possible from Oxford’s dreaming spires and the endless reminders (to someone from a northern, working class, Methodist background) that it was basically a finishing school for the public schoolboys who would soon go on to run everything.
Seduced by my love for roots reggae music and the Clash, I decided there was no better place than Brixton to sign on and to learn to play the guitar and write songs, inspired by two of my other musical heroes, Bob Dylan and, recently discovered, Shane MacGowan of the Pogues, whose rattling bender of an album, Rum, Sodomy and the Lash, had recently been released. Read the rest of this entry »
Yesterday marked the end of Donald Trump’s first month in office — surely, the most disastrous first month of a presidency in living memory, with a ban on immigrants and visitors from seven mainly-Muslim countries that has been blocked in the courts, a Russian-linked scandal involving Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn, who has resigned, and a widespread understanding that Trump isn’t fit for the job, and that his administration is severely dysfunctional.
In amongst his machine-gun fire of dreadful policies have come unnerving hints about his proposals for Guantánamo — keeping the prison open and sending new prisoners there, including Islamic State prisoners, and, initially touted but since abandoned, a plan to revive Bush-era torture policies with new CIA-run “black sites.”
While we await further news about Trump’s plans, I’ve been marking his first month in office with a new campaign video for the Close Guantánamo campaign that I founded five years ago with the attorney Tom Wilner, who represented the Guantánamo prisoners in their Supreme Court cases in 2004 and 2008. The video is also available on Facebook. Read the rest of this entry »
Yesterday, I was very excited to put the final touches to my band The Four Fathers‘ second album, ‘How Much Is A Life Worth?’ The album will be available soon on CD and to download on our Bandcamp account, where our existing recordings are still available — our first album ‘Love and War’, the ‘Fighting Injustice’ EP, featuring remixes of three songs from ‘Love and War’ (US and UK versions), and a single, ‘Close Guantánamo.’ Please feel free to like us on Facebook and to follow us on Twitter.
The album features ten original songs — eight by me, as lead singer and rhythm guitarist, and two by Richard Clare (lead guitar, backing vocals), and we recorded it with Pat Collier at Perry Vale Studios in Forest Hill in three sessions from July to November with Brendan Horstead on drums and percussion, Andrew Fifield on flute and harmonica, and Louis Sills-Clare on bass.
My songs include the title track — our most recent song — comparing how white westerners value their own lives compared to the victims of the west’s post-9/11 wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the refugees fleeing the death and destruction in Syria and elsewhere, and the black men — and children — killed with impunity by the police in the US, where the Black Lives Matter movement has been such a powerful force. Read the rest of this entry »
We play politically-charged roots reggae and rock — mostly original songs, and mostly my own compositions —and our first LP ‘Love and War’ was released last year, and is available on CD via Bandcamp (it can be sent anywhere in the world). On our Bandcamp page you can also buy the whole album as a download, or buy individual tracks — and you can also listen to or buy our subsequent EP, ‘Fighting Injustice,’ and our song ‘Close Guantánamo,’ released as an online single, as downloads.
We’re currently working on our second album, which will be released next year, featuring a number of songs that are becoming prominent in our live shows: ‘How Much Is A Life Worth?’ (about how white westerners regard their lives as more important than others), ‘London’ (about gentrification, and how London has changed over the last 30 years), ‘Riot’ (about the need to end inequality), ‘Equal Rights And Justice For All’ (about the importance of habeas corpus) — as well as two songs by guitarist Richard Clare — ‘When He Is Sane’, about mental health, and ‘She’s Back’ (about ‘Pussy Riot’) — and some love songs, ‘Tell Me Baby’ (about love and aging), ‘Dreamers’ (written for a friend’s 50th birthday) and ‘River Run Dry’ (about the end of a relationship, a song I wrote as a young man).
For now, however, feel free to check out our ten most popular songs on Bandcamp and have a listen — or buy them if you’d like, which would, of course, delight us! Read the rest of this entry »
The song was featured in a video (on YouTube and Facebook) for the Close Guantánamo campaign, launched last week, just after Donald Trump’s unfortunate election victory, which, sadly, makes it seems less, rather than more likely that Guantánamo will be closed unless, before he leaves office in January, President Obama can fulfill the promise to close the prison that he first made on his second day in office.
As the last verse of the song states:
Obama promised to close the prison for good
On his second day in office
But Republicans resisted his plans
And he lacked the political will to do it
But as the years drag on and on
And the men still held get older and iller
Endless imprisonment without charge or trial
Is what it always was — a form of torture
Last week, the Close Guantánamo campaign that I co-founded with the US attorney Tom Wilner in January 2012 released a new promotional video for the Countdown to Close Guantánamo. This is an initiative launched at the start of the year to count down President Obama’s last year in office, in an effort to encourage him to fulfill the promise to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay that he made on his second day in office, a mission suddenly made all the more important last week, after Donald Trump won the Presidential Election, to the shock of the Democratic Party and of decent people everywhere. Today, President Obama has just 63 days left to get Guantánamo closed. To encourage him to fulfill his promise, please print off a “50 days to go” poster for November 30, take a photo with it, and send it to the Close Guantánamo campaign, with, if you like, a message for President Obama, and/or advice for Donald Trump.
The video (also on Facebook) featured photos of celebrities and concerned citizens across the US and around the world holding up posters reminding President Obama how many days he had left to close Guantánamo, and also featured “Close Guantánamo,” a song I wrote for my band The Four Fathers, which is available below, via our Bandcamp page, to listen to, and, if you wish to support the band, to buy as a download — for just £1 ($1.25). Drummer Brendan Horstead also deserves thanks for making the campaign video — and the cover of the single.
This Sunday, October 16, my band The Four Fathers will be playing our first gig since summer, when we had a run of gigs in south east London — and a spot at Molly’s Bar at the WOMAD world music festival in Wiltshire.
We’re playing at the Arts Cafe, in Manor Park, in Lewisham, London SE13, a community cafe run by Fred Schmid (a jazz saxophonist) and his partner Banu, following up on a gig there in July. The Facebook page is here. It’s a wonderful space, beside the River Quaggy, which burbles past on its way to the centre of Lewisham, where it meets the Ravensbourne and feeds into the Thames at Deptford.
No one has definitively defined our sound yet, but we think it would be fair to describe it as a mix of pastoral rock and punky roots reggae. Certainly, no one who knows my work would be surprised that, as the lead singer and main songwriter, I bring my indignation about injustice from my work as a journalist and human rights activist into my music. Read the rest of this entry »
14 years ago, in July 2002, just after my wedding, I visited — and took part in — for the first time the WOMAD festival (World of Music, Arts and Dance), a world music festival that was established by Peter Gabriel and a number of colleagues in 1982, and which, at the time, was at a site by the River Thames in Reading. I went with my wife Dot, and our two-year old son, to take part in children’s workshops run by an Australian friend, who then returned to Australia, handing on the workshops to Dot, who has run them ever since, with myself and a number of our friends and their families.
From those first days, when we drank merrily while our kids slept in their buggies, we have seen our children grow at WOMAD, and we now tend to go to sleep while they are still out clubbing. Our group of workers also shares a special camaraderie, and, of course, we have also watched a wealth of world music talent over the years. We have also worked every year with children to prepare headdresses and other creations to accompany a giant figure, designed by Dot, that, with others made by the many other groups involved in the workshops, is, every year, carried through the whole site on the last day of the festival, as part of the children’s procession that reminds all of us of the central importance of children in all our lives.
In 2007, WOMAD moved to Charlton Park, a stately home in Wiltshire, near Malmesbury, and we went with it, of course. I’ve taken photos of it every year, and have made them available on Flickr since 2012 — see the photos from 2012 here and here, from 2014 here, and from 2015 here. Read the rest of this entry »
I’m off to WOMAD, the wonderful world music festival in Wiltshire, for the 15th year running, with a posse of good friends and their families. I’ll be back on Monday. My wife has been running children’s workshops since our kids were tiny toddlers, when WOMAD was still by the river in Reading, and now our kids are young men and the festival is happily settled into Charlton Park near Malmesbury, a wonderful site.
I never quite know who’s going to be on. One of the great joys of WOMAD is being surprised by wonderful musicians from all round the world — and, for me, especially, Africa — so I’ll report back later on my discoveries. I do know that Asian Dub Foundation are the welcoming band on the Friday night, and that George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic will be wowing us at some point.
I also hope that my band The Four Fathers (on Twitter here!) will be playing the Open Mic at Molly’s Bar at some point over the weekend, and I already know that my son Tyler (The Wiz-RD) will be beatboxing and providing some spoken word pieces at the Hip Yak Poetry Shack. Read the rest of this entry »
Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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