This is what I know of this story. I’m writing it down because I wasn’t there, but I’m the only one left to remember the stories my sister told me and what snippets I picked up listening to the grown-ups, usually while sitting on the stairs after I had been sent to bed. My father never talked about the war to me, because I suppose by the time I came along he was sick of talking about it. His brother, who was a Japanese PoW for 5 years on the Burma Railway, never talked about it either, too traumatised.

Both my parents’ families lived in West Gorton in Manchester, the typical terraced houses with outside toilets, tin baths in front of the fire, a posser to do the washing, Ena Sharples pinnies and a surfeit of TB infections.  A lot less glamorous that Coronation Street would have you believe. My mother was one of nine children, most of whom worked in the cotton mills, so poor they often went to work with no shoes on their feet. Her father was a wrong ‘un by all accounts, a child abuser, and a waster. My father on the other hand was rather posh, in Gorton terms, because he was one of only two children and my grandfather owned the corner shop. Posh is relative obviously. My paternal grandmother had TB and spent a lot of time in Baguley Sanatorium, which according to dad, was a charabanc trip out in those days, being in the middle of nowhere, until the largest council estate in Europe, Wythenshawe, was built around it.

Paternal grandfather and grandmother wedding

Both my parents left school early, but my father in particular would, I have no doubt, have gone on to great things had he been allowed to continue his education, and if the war had not intervened in everyone’s life. He had his own jazz bands before and after the war and must have been very young to do that. He could learn to play any instrument in about a week, keyboards, guitar, saxophone, accordion, drums, vibes, you name it he could play it, and play it very well. He actually built my first electric guitar. He was also a painter and animator, an award winning amateur filmmaker, an electrician and a scientist. As long as it wasn’t anything domestic, he was your man.  Seriously, the house I grew up in had terrifying wiring for someone who ended up working in a High Voltage lab at the University of Manchester.

Mum and Dad engagement

My parents were married in St Marks Church, Gorton on October 7th 1939, a little sooner than originally planned, I think, because my father signed up to join the army as soon as he could. St Marks was, of course, the origin of my beloved Manchester City, so it’s a puzzle as to why my father became a United supporter. I can only assume, knowing dad was an archetypal working class Tory, that the vicar turned out to be a socialist or something equally inflammatory. The best man was dad’s best friend Arthur. He lived in Hulme with his parents and younger sister Joan. After the wedding, mum went to work in a munitions factory, and dad went off to war with the Royal Corps of Signals. On their first wedding anniversary, he wrote a beautiful letter to Arthur reminding him of the day, including how he kept the change after paying for the marriage certificate.

After being evacuated from Dunkirk following a three-day trek, mostly without boots, 4 days later, my father was sent to North Africa with the Western Desert Force. The WDF merged with other Commonwealth forces to become the Eighth Army in September 1941, and they famously went on to defeat Rommel at Alamein.


In September 1940, Manchester came under heavy bombardment from German bombers. The infamous Christmas Blitz was followed by several other raids which went on until May 1941 and killed nearly 700 people. Though not the worst hit city in the country, Manchester was very badly damaged. In one of the later raids, Arthur and his sister Joan were killed.

My father, being in the African desert, did not hear about this tragedy for a while, and when he did, he was understandably devastated. He desperately wanted to reach out to his friends’ parents but obviously had no access to condolence cards, and had no writing materials. He went to his officers and begged for a pen and paper. He then made a tribute book for his friends, and I think it is beautiful. What really surprises me is the emotion that jumps out, because I never saw my father as a particularly sensitive or emotional man. He never refilled the post of best friend.

Ma’a Sallama means “goodbye, may you be accompanied with safety/peace” in Arabic
The words on the gravestone read “Arthur, truest and most precious of my friends. Joan, innocent who also loved him”
Note Hitler’s cap and Churchill’s Homburg in the corner


The NHS is not the Messiah but it’s quite a good thing

Seen a lot of stuff written about the NHS lately and how it really isn’t the envy of the world, and I kind of agree, but only because they have got it all arse over tit. The NHS isn’t the envy of the world, that’s a handy slogan for those who want to keep it and a handy stick to beat us with by those who want it to fail. I mean, I’m sure it is if you are poor or on a low income and live in the half the world that doesn’t have a properly functioning healthcare system, like America or Syria. The fact that it’s free at the point of use and people, especially those with no or low incomes, don’t have to worry about getting sick and having to pay for it is enviable, deservedly. The left fetishises it a some kind of socialist utopia, whereas most people don’t care who does their scan as long as they don’t pay on the door. The right hates it because it is a little bit socialist and they can’t bear the thought that healthy people pay for sick people, until of course it’s one of THEIR sick people. Bear in mind that whatever your politics, the NHS is undeniably one of the most advanced, and comprehensive systems in the world, DESPITE being underfunded compared to a lot of our nearest neighbours.

Sure, the NHS has faults, but show me any system that doesn’t and I’ll show you someone who doesn’t understand the size and complexity of healthcare. We don’t have enough staff, we don’t have enough beds, we have a tendency to change too slowly, we are far too invested in a tick box culture, externally we have to deal with a completely disastrous care system. We are much better at acute care than we are at long term conditions, but I suspect that’s a global issue.

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On the other hand, we have some incredible people working in the NHS, just look at how we responded to the pandemic and volunteered to vaccinate you all. We offer modern and comprehensive service that frankly, we tend to take for granted. In combination with our universities, we have some of the best and most innovative research in the world. The UK punches significantly above its weight in terms of citations for research papers, particularly health research, with the UK coming second only to the USA with it’s massive spending on healthcare.

That’s probably cold comfort if you’re trying to get an appointment with your GP or get a scan but the data tells us our waiting times aren’t actually that bad when compared to other countries. The OECD found that in 2014, UK waiting times for cataract, knee and hip replacement were below the average among the 14 countries for which they have data. 

We do some things very well and quite importantly, don’t do things that other countries do that they really shouldn’t. In America harmful over treatment and testing is a massive problem, though for insurance companies, a very lucrative one. Many of us in the UK have serious reservations over often unevidenced mass health screening of the healthy population. Screening is not the same as early diagnosis.

“many of these screening programmes are not based on available scientific evidence, and policy-makers, health professionals and the public are often unaware of the potential harm of screening and its cost and burden” – WHO

Digressing slightly, still think we do too much screening, and as evidence guru Margaret McCartney says “Too much ineffective treatment for the well and not enough for the sick”  Recommend her book The Patient Paradox and why sexed up medicine is bad for your health.

You still get patient advocates demanding screening programmes or demanding that programmes are extended to more age groups. PSA screening is a good example. Even the discoverer of the PSA antigen said the test is misused and unreliable and yet every so often you see some football stadium offering the test in a van in the car park to drum up public support for routine screening.

Trouble is patients often think they should be able to choose whatever they want on the NHS so if they want a brand spanking new drug that might extend their life by a week, but costs 5 million pounds per dose, they should have it. This isn’t good medicine, nor is it as simple as “rationing”. Nor is demanding CPR for those approaching natural death, nor is offering homeopathy just to placate Buckingham Palace. You can feel for individual patients but sometimes there is no justification for interventions, and yet the EU is once again threatening to introduce routine PSA screening. Some countries feel differently than the UK, but it still isn’t good medicine.

Where the NHS falls down is on outcomes, we are not doing as well as we should be, on mental health for a start. Trouble is the reasons for that are many and varied and just saying “because it’s publicly funded” is clearly nonsense. There are staffing, cultural, economic reasons, among other things. Manchester has some of the finest hospitals in the country, including regional heart, lung and cancer centres Whatever specialty you need, we probably have it and yet Greater Manchester has dreadful levels of cancer, cardiac and respiratory disease, driven in large part by cultural issues like poverty, smoking, air pollution etc. If everyone in Manchester lived in a nice warm suburban house, had enough money for food and fuel, didn’t smoke, drink, eat pies in barmcakes, we’d be quids in outcome wise. Harsh but true. So don’t put it all on the NHS, it’s doing a good job in difficult times, but it could do better. Demand better, don’t let politicians fool you that they’re doing all they can, but be realistic, there is no such thing as a perfect system.

(And it’s not being privatised you daft buggers.)

Election 2019 – the normalisation of hate

This has been theALieDoesnt worst and most devastating election campaign I’ve ever seen. Normally you have to choose a party to vote for that isn’t perfect, but one that most closely reflects your values and principles. This year, there isn’t one, not a single party that even comes close to representing me.

Obviously I am never, not in a million years, ever going to vote for the Tories. I mean the fact I and many others have been told for 4 years to fuck off and join the Tories by Corbyn fans, I would never give them my vote. Not even the One Nation Tories that used to inhabit their party, who have been ousted by the far right ERG. The Tories have no idea how their atrocious policies have hit the poorest and most vulnerable, and what’s worse, they don’t care.

Boris Johnson is an over privileged, over indulged, lazy, self obsessed racist. No question. He is a bumbling fool, who just wants to be PM, not to do some good, but because his upbringing has made him believe he is entitled to be PM.

Four out of ten Tory Party members would not want a Muslim person as prime minister with a similar number saying there should be limits placed on Muslim people entering the country.  This is a racist party by any metric. The only saving grace they have is that there aren’t actually very many Tory members to be racist. If you vote for them though, you are, at the very least, saying you don’t care about racism.

A vote for the Tories isn’t, as many would tell you, a vote for competent economic management. The economy suffered its worst three months for more than a decade after official figures revealed output failed to grow once again in October. That’s after 9 years of making everyone suffer. (I don’t use the word austerity, because every party proposed austerity in their 2015 manifestos, to offset the banking crisis so using it as an anti Tory buzzword is disingenuous at best).

When it comes to the NHS, we all know the Tories have neglected it every time they’ve been in power, and I know better than most the difference the Blair/Brown government made post 1997. We were using equipment from the 1940s, The roof on our chest clinic and geriatric wards used to fall in when it snowed, housed as they were in a buildings intended as temporary burns units during WW2. It changed dramatically after the election. Within two years we had all new equipment and an entire new hospital. Of course the new hospital was built under a PFI agreement, and as one of the earliest, it wasn’t a good contract. I still say it was much needed though. If we hadn’t built it, many more patients would have died, I have absolutely no doubt about it. Well, I hear you say, the money should have come from the public purse. Which is fine, as long as you then decide what to cut to pay for it. Personally I was far more interested in cutting the horrendous waiting lists that had built up during 18 years of Tory Government. In 2017, NHS England estimated that one in ten people would be on an NHS waiting list by 2020. The “NHS is being privatised” is a daft election slogan by the way, it isn’t being privatised, nor will it be. They have been in charge for about 50 of the last 80 years and still you don’t have to pay at the point of need. If you believe it is then you don’t understand the difference between privatisation and outsourcing. You are also belittling the massive contribution of the Third Sector. 

Also bear in mind that the Tories are led not by the PM, but by a massive far right prick called Dominic Cummings, who is not elected by anyone.

So yeah, the Tories are disqualified, and so too are the Brexit Party, but they seem to have disqualified themselves anyway. The one saving grace of this election will be the utter humiliation of  Nigel Farage.

So, vote Labour yeah? Not if your values include anti racism. I was a Labour member for decades, all my adult life. I’m on the left, and I left because because it is no longer the progressive, anti racist party I was proud to associate myself with. Don’t believe me? Read the 50 page report submitted by the Jewish Labour Movement, one of the founding organisations of the Labour Party, submitted to the EHRC. 15000 cases have been sent to the Labour Party by the CAA. Only one other party has been referred to the EHRC, the BNP. Jewish MPs, mainly women btw, have been hounded out of the party by abusive local Labour Parties. Labour is not a safe place for Jews. Thinking, well, they’re ok with Muslims? Selectively maybe. He didn’t care about them in Kosovo, when he denied genocide and voted against intervention to stop it. He doesn’t care about Syrian Muslims being barrel bombed by Putin and Assad, including hundreds of thousands of those Palestinians he’s supposed to care so much about. He doesn’t care about Iranian Muslims when he goes on TV praising the Iranian governments who hang gay people and beat women for not wearing hijab. He didn’t care much about black South Africans when he went against the express wishes of the ANC when he was a very fringe member of the anti apartheid movement. Let’s face it, he doesn’t much care about UK citizens being blown up by the IRA or poisoned by Putin on our streets either. This is no peacemaker, this is someone who is anti west and who supports anyone who agrees with him, no matter how violent. He is a danger to national security, as his Shadow Health Sec Jonathan Ashworth rightly said, but didn’t want us to know.

20% of Labour voters agreed with the statement that Jews have a disproportionate influence in politics, compared with 15% of the wider public and 14% of Tory supporters. 29% of Labour voters said Jews are more loyal to Israel than Britain. That compares to 24% of Tory voters, which is in line with the public as a whole. Antisemitism 101. Bear in mind, Labour is supposed to be an anti racist party. The Tories make no such claim. There have always been a few crank left antisemites in the party, but they were shunned and marginalised by the party leadership and the vast majority of the membership. Now they are running the show, they are in the leader’s office, they are in a majority on the ruling body, the NEC. They run the constituency Labour parties. It is an institutionally racist party. I get why people think it’s the lesser of two evils, I really do, but by voting for them and refusing to use the caveat “yes, they are deeply racist but I don’t feel I have a choice” you are normalising racism. You are effectively saying you don’t care about Jews, they are acceptable collateral damage. Please don’t ignore the victims.

But they’re going to save the NHS aren’t they? Not convinced I’m afraid. After they’ve enabled Brexit (Did I mention the Corbyn and co are lifelong anti EU campaigners and never had any intention of campaigning for Remain?) and lost us thousands or irreplaceable staff, then spent a shedload of cash bribing middle class students and WASPI women and nationalised transport (yes I know it’s shit, but it was shit when it was nationalised too). I don’t buy it, and neither does the independent IFS .

Also bear in mind that Labour is led not by Corbyn, but by a massive far left prick called Seamus Milne, who is not elected by anyone.

I should in theory vote Lib Dem as I live in a key marginal, but until they start supporting women’s rights to privacy and safety but sorry, I’m a scientist, biological sex exists and women have been used, abused and murdered for their biological sex.

Can’t vote Green, because a) they aren’t standing in my constituency and b) they would put me out of a job with their bonkers science and health policies.

So, that’s nice isn’t it? Sleep well, don’t have nightmares.











I was talking to a neighbour tonight who’d popped round for a poster. We chatted for a while about the referendum campaigns. Like most of the country I suspect, we both agreed that it’s been the ugliest, nastiest, most toxic campaign we’ve ever known. It has left a stain on the reputation of this kingdom, that I’m not sure will ever be removed. Sounds dramatic but it is exactly the same conversation I’ve had with many people. There’s been no real debate, only soundbites, abuse, lies and eventually, violence. It was all so unnecessary, a massive political gamble by a Prime Minister determined to win reelection no matter what the cost. This isn’t democracy, not when we have a system where the public can be so blatantly and thoroughly deceived by power hungry politicians and a toxic media. When we do clinical trials we have, by law, to obtain informed consent from the public. Whatever the result of the referendum there is nothing informed about the consent that will be claimed by the victors. 

I try to console myself that there are many decent, hard working, honest MPs and councillors, and there are thousands of decent honourable activists who’ve been working really bloody hard to use reason and facts during the campaign but it’s nigh on impossible to shout loud enough to be heard over the river of sewage from up above. 

Let’s never, ever let this happen again. 

You’ve never had such an important vote, that counted so much, please use it, and tell your friends and family to use it. 

Do it for Jo #moreincommon

United in Diversity: The EU and Me.

United in Diversity, the official motto of the European Union, inspired by Ernesto Moneta, Italian Nobel Peace Prize winner. Never has it seemed so pertinent than now, in this ever more divided and dangerous world.

I have many reasons for wanting everyone to vote to stay in the EU, not one of which is because David Cameron or Jeremy Clarkson want to remain. This is a few of them. There will be more, you’ve been warned.


I’m sure you’ve heard the Brexit argument that if we weren’t sending gazillions of £s to the EU every day we could fund the NHS properly. Then you’ve probably heard that if we weren’t sending all that cash to the EU we could fund education properly. On the other hand you might have heard that if we weren’t sending all our moolah to the EU on a daily basis we could fund our transport system properly. Or you might have heard that because we send ALL our cash to the EU we could fund our [insert absolutely ANYTHING you think isn’t funded enough in the UK]. You might think on reading this stuff that we spend a humongous proportion of our GDP on the EU. This is of course, exactly what the Brexit campaign want you to think. GOVT SPENDING 2014-5

I made a graph of public spending in 2014-15, based on ONS figures. Now imagine the little orange bit that is our net EU spending is given entirely to the NHS. It would make precisely naff all difference. Divide it between health, education, defence, and transport, and we are talking homeopathic differences.

Let’s be clear, the underfunding of our public services is not due to our membership of the EU, it is entirely a political choice by the Tory party. Sure when you say the EU costs us £23m a day (the £55m figure used by the Brexit camp is flat out wrong) it sounds like a lot, but it’s about 38p per person per day, or the same as Christmas shoppers will spend in 3 hours just on London’s Oxford Street. The UK spends almost £2 billion on Valentine’s Day every year. Perspective, a great thing.

Of course we wouldn’t get to keep all that money anyway, because like Norway and Switzerland we’d have to pay pretty much all of that to the EU for the privilege of trading with it, and we would have to comply with EU regulations on goods and services while having zero control over what those regulations were and how they were made.


Yes but what about, I hear you cry, all our laws being made by Brussels. Well for a start, Brussels doesn’t make laws, it’s a region of Belgium where our representatives meet to cooperate in various EU institutions. It’s also where NATO HQ is situated but you rarely hear people using Brussels as a pejorative term relating to that, it usually gets replaced with teh evul Merkins. Secondly, the EU doesn’t make most of our laws, that is another lie perpetrated by the Brexit camp. The following graphic uses data from the House of Commons Library Briefing Paper  published in June 2015 which estimates how many of our Acts and Statutory Instruments were EU related .



One of those words that starts to look really weird when you look at it for long enough. It always seems weird to me that some people put such faith in this concept, especially when they are being completely and totally screwed by our sovereign government with a House of Commons majority based on winning the votes of just over a third of the British people and it’s entirely unelected majority in the House of Lords. Honestly though, sovereignty is a bit of a Little Englander myth. In fact pop pickers, sovereignty doesn’t even reside with Parliament, technically it resides with the Queen. Take that democracy. People will tell you that the monarchy is merely symbolic. They believe this, but until some wayward monarch tries to pull a fast one, no-one actually knows if our imagined democracy is as sound as they say.

We regularly and without hesitation hand over some of our sovereignty without so much as a by your leave. See UN, NATO, OSCE, WTO, IMF etc. Then there’s the unofficial handing over of sovereignty, to the US, China, the Oil producing states,  and anyone else who has something, be it trade or defence related. We live in a globalised world where we make alliances and become involved in shared decision making for our own good. The key is that we give some sovereignty, it isn’t taken by anyone.


Immigration is the most talked about aspect of the EU. The right wing media has for decades turned up the heat in the debate, usually with frankly racist and dishonest articles. I do realise though, that we have a problem getting over the facts with our voters. The fear of strangers runs deep in many communities across the world, and economic downturns always have led to the demonisation of the different, probably since we first appeared on the planet. This is about my opinion though, I’m not offering solutions, just facts.

I’m a big fan of immigration, it has been almost universally good for the UK, for its businesses, its public services, and its academic institutions. Now I’m not going to pretend that everything is rosy in the immigration garden. There are some parts of the UK where planning and infrastructure has been less than adequate for an influx of extra numbers, wherever they came from. There are many other areas where you will meet intense hostility to outsiders, despite there being no outsiders actually around. We are not however, overcrowded. I’ve driven to and from Lincolnshire many times and barely seen another sentient being. Don’t even get me started on Wales, they have so much empty space in the middle they don’t even seem to bother building roads.

I’m going to focus on the NHS with some facts about immigration that are routinely misreported by the Brexit fans.
NHS Staffing

The NHS simply could not function without immigration. A significant proportion of our workforce was born overseas. According to the King’s Fund, in 2014 around 20% of NHS staff are non-British. Imagine losing 1/5th of the NHS workforce. The figure is even higher for doctors, with about 30% qualifying abroad. In addition, 31 per cent of nursing shifts covered by agency staff over the past year were worked by foreign staff on temporary visas. Doesn’t bear thinking about does it? Of course only some of them come from the EU, so leaving would seriously impact NHS staffing but wouldn’t make a huge difference to overall immigration figures.

Health Tourism

healthtourismWhat about how much health tourism costs us I hear you cry. Glad you asked. It depends what you mean by “health tourism”. It comes in many different guises. There are many people from all over the world who come here to access our world renowned medical specialties. These patients are used as an extra income source by the NHS. According to Monitor, the organisation that oversees NHS Trusts, in 2013/14 Foundation Trusts earned £389 million of their income from private patients, compared to £224 million in 2009/10. A lot of that is from overseas patients who want to access the best healthcare in the world. The increase is due to the lifting of the cap on private patient income introduced with the execrable Health and Social Care Bill, courtesy of the Coalition. Now you could, with a good deal of sympathy from me, argue that NHS hospitals shouldn’t be using our staff and facilities for private patients while we have waiting lists, even if it does generate income, but what you can’t argue is that this issue is a result of our membership of the EU.

Similarly, we treat a lot of people from the EU via our reciprocal arrangement with other EU countries. So if say, Mr Schmidt comes over on holiday, or for work, gets run over or falls ill with something we will treat him just as you would be treated if you fell off your donkey in Benidorm. Leaving the EU wouldn’t stop people getting sick in another country, it would simply make it harder to claim the money back and a whole lot more annoying for British holidaymakers and probably more expensive via increased insurance premiums.

So what people really mean, when they talk about health tourism, is those people who come here for treatment who don’t plan to pay for it right? The Department of Health estimates that the cost of this sort of healthcare use is between £110 million and £280 million. Sounds like a lot? Like our contribution to EU coffers, it’s all relative.

The figure is split into two groups:

  1. People who travel to the UK for acute expensive treatment who go straight to A&E. They cost us and estimated £60-80 million annually.
  2. Those accessing routine treatment, having been legitimately able to register with a GP and visit on a regular basis, including many British expats by the way, who often should pay but who have an active GP registration. They cost about £50-200 million.

Note that this is for the whole world, not the EU. Still sounds a lot, but a) the cost of clamping down on this exceeds, via admin costs, the amount we lose and b) Overseas visitors account for whopping 0.1% of our total health budget.


This is also a biggie, because it’s the argument used by the left to argue against the EU, rather than the right. TTIP as you probably know, is a series of trade negotiations being carried out between the EU and US with the aim of reducing tariffs and the regulatory barriers to trade for big business, making it easier for companies on both sides of the Atlantic to access each other’s markets. The main UK argument against TTIP is that it would allow private firms to bid to run NHS services and enable them to sue the government if it chose to return the services to the public sector.

Firstly, if TTIP ever happens I’ll be gobsmacked. Once an agreement is made, which let’s be honest, is freakin’ years away, it has to be ratified by all member states, who have been known to throw other agreements in the fire after years of work. Secondly, there is no reason to believe the NHS would be at more risk from an EU agreement than it already is from a Tory government. Think about it, if we weren’t in the EU do you think the Tories would hesitate for a second about begging the US for a bilateral trade deal, quite probably on much worse terms for our precious NHS than any EU agreement? And who is it exactly who is leading from the front on a jet propelled steamroller in the NHS privatisation stakes? The Tory government, that’s who. Lastly, the scaremongering from the Brexit camp was pretty comprehensively slam dunked by the EU Trade Commissioner Cecelia Malmstrom last year and the EU produced a handy little mythbuster leaflet too here. We have to be on this from the inside, where at least our Labour MEPs can have some influence. It’s either that or Oliver Letwin will stand a much better chance of having his wish granted.

Unsung Hero: CP Lee

 CP Lee, or Dr Chris Lee to his mum, musician, writer, comic, historian, lecturer, was born in 1950 and has been at the centre of Manchester’s musical mischief makers since the Sixties. In fact, you can probably assume that whenever anything of any cultural significance occurred north of Birmingham, CP Lee was probably there in the thick of it, from the infamous Bob Dylan “Judas” gig at the Free Trade Hall, to the very beginnings of Factory Records to the birth of Madchester, from Northern Soul to House, he’s been there, done it, bought the T-shirt, possibly been in a band with it, and written a book about it.

Now a lecturer at the University of Salford (the “Dr” comes from a PhD gained in 1997 entitled “Popular Music Making in Manchester 1950-1995”), as a teenager he and his best friend Martin Hannett, later of Factory fame, submerged themselves in the musical explosion of the 60’s, begging his cousin, who was in the Navy, to bring him back records from the States. They were in particular, he said, “knocked sideways by the Velvet Underground” and “stone crazy” about Arthur Lee and Love.  He also fell in love with Bob Dylan, in much the same way as I did, as a thirteen year old trying to impress a member of the opposite sex. For both of us the love affair with Dylan lasted a lot longer than the crush.

After cutting his performing teeth playing in the folk and beat clubs of Manchester, eventually Art Brut style, he formed a band, with various incarnations such as Jacko Ogg & The Head People, Greasy Bear (which included future Durutti Column member Bruce Mitchell) finally finding cult status with the Alberto y Lost Trios Paranoias, a comedy rock band evolved from a sketch outfit that mercilessly parodied the rock gods of the seventies in songs such as Anadin, a reworking of Lou Reed’s Heroin. If that sounds rather twee, think again, it was more along the lines of the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, punk cabaret, Pythonesque humour with a New York Dolls attitude. By the mid seventies they were topping the bill supported by the likes of the Police, Blondie, the Stranglers, Joy Division, Devo and Robyn Hitchcock, even headlining the Reading Festival in 1975. All this culminated in a record breaking West End musical play, Sleak – the Snuff Rock Musical, about a rock star talked into committing suicide on stage. The accompanying EP, released on Stiff records parodied the Pistols, the Damned and the Clash, often sounding better than the originals.

Following the break up the Berts in 1982 due to musical indifferences and the long road into academia, Lee turned to writing, penning two critically acclaimed books on his hero Bob Dylan (who he’d first written about in an English essay as a 16 year old).

In a review of Like the Night: (Revisited) Bob Dylan and the road to the Manchester Free Trade Hall “ Greil Marcus wrote “CP Lee was there, but the point is that he can put you there too.  And, he can take you all the way back down the twisty road that led to that fabled night; a night pop music broke in half.” The second Dylan book, Like a Bullet of Light: The Films of Bob Dylan was equally well received.

Shake Rattle and Rain: Popular Music in Manchester, 1955-1995, the book of his PhD thesis, combines oral history and personal observation to produce possibly the definitive guide to Manchester’s long standing love affair with pop music.

In 2007, Lee published When We Were Thin, the glorious tale of the Berts rise and, not so much fall, as lying down for a much needed rest.  The book hilariously chronicles everything from eating muffins with Warhol to his encounters with The Clash, Ray Davies, New Order, The Pogues, The Fall, Frank Zappa, The Pink Floyd, John Cale, Roger McGuinn, Ian Dury, Nick Lowe, John Cooper Clarke, Elvis Costello, Nico, Buzzcocks, Captain Beefheart and many more. If you’re not in it, you probably didn’t matter.

Lee has also published several journal articles, notably articles in the North West Labour History Journal, including one which examined the influence of Ewan McColl on the British Folk Revival and his relationship with his contemporary Bob Dylan. As a sideline, Lee also produces documentaries for Radio 4. From Manchester to the Mississippi documents the Manchester leg of the 1964 concert tour that showcased some of America’s greatest black musicians, Muddy Waters, Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee and Sister Rosetta Tharpe, which when broadcast on television inspired so many young British musicians.

Currently busy researching Comedy and Regional Identity, organising the International Conference on Comedy at the University of Salford, running the Manchester and District Music Archive and still performing in the Salford Sheiks, described asAcid Skiffle, Bathroom Blues and laugh out loud comedy” it seems there is no end to his talents. Long may it continue. 

Shakey: Neil Young’s Biography

I’ve never understood the obsession with meeting your idols or the premise that it’s a good thing for the barrier NY Shakeybetween artist and audience to be broken down. I suspect former Village Voice writer Jimmy McDonough would disagree. This is a book that could only be written by an obsessive fan and you’d have to be one to spend nearly 10 years writing a book. It’s a hefty tome, at almost 800 pages it’s longer than the authorised biography of Nelson Mandela. There’s no doubt that it loses the plot towards the end. McDonough starts to put himself in the story, a mistake for any biographer. For all its faults though, it’s a fascinating insight not only into the life of one of the greatest songwriters of the last 50 years but of a multitude of usually seedy, deeply flawed, but often hilarious characters and the times they lived through.

220px-Crazy_horse_w_neil_youngMost of the book concentrates on the period between the early days of success with Buffalo Springfield in the mid sixties and the release of the iconic album Rust Never Sleeps in 1979, an incredibly fertile time for Young, during which he produced some of the most influential music of the era. Quite how he achieved this with a band that couldn’t play, the brilliantly shambolic Crazy Horse, while battling epilepsy and seemingly living on a diet of mescaline and honey slides (weed sautéed with honey and eaten until catatonic) is pretty remarkable.

Some things are not news; there was always a fractious relationship between Stephen Stills and Young, based on a love/hate relationship akin to sibling rivalry. David Crosby summed it up “Stephen always wanted to be better than Neil but he never could”. Stills is the only main player that refused to be interviewed for the book. The tales of others though, are relayed to Young and he gives his version of the same events which must have been as enlightening to Young as it is to the reader.

Sometimes McDonough drifts off into full fan boy mode, like when discussing 1975’s superb Tonight’s the Night, the neil%20young-1darkest, most desolate album of Young’s career, and a record that was a huge influence on a generation of musicians, including the young Kurt Cobain. “For me, the seventies can be summed up by three things, those grotesque early malls, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Tonight’s the Night. Decay, but with a gleam in it’s eye. You know how it is when you’ve been up too long, the apartment’s trashed, everything is silent, the sun’s about to come up and you’re feeling like some germ stuck to a big cold rock, hurtling through space, and somehow you don’t mind? Here is a record that induces that state automatically.” If you’re a Neil Young fan, you forgive him these excursions, because you know exactly what he means.

Young is a complex character, one minute the ruthless, hard headed businessman, absentee father, a selfish and at times downright cruel friend, and on the other, utterly dedicated to his second family, a man that inspires unending loyalty from those who work with him, and a fragile, unpredictable musical maverick with a penchant for driving around in a hearse who wouldn’t think twice about binning a guaranteed hit album to produce a ragged, uncommercial masterpiece, or even record an album and then just never release it. A man who, whilst understanding the necessity of record companies, has never paid more than lip service to their opinions.

In some ways McDonough never actually gets to the bottom of who Young really is, he remains an enigma. As McDonough said himself “Young was an unsolved mystery, hermetically sealed” but the sheer volume of facts, the lurid tales and the hilarious anecdotes at least give you a clue, and a thoroughly entertaining read. As Neil would say “inneresting”.

Whatever Happened to the Heroes?

Something is wrong with the music business and it’s not the advent of the internet. Fans have always exchanged music illegally; it’s only the format that’s changed, from tapes to CDs and now mp3s. It’s how people have always found out about new music, swapping recommendations with friends. The Leading Question, a music business research company, found that those who regularly download unlicensed music spend about four times more on legal downloads than those who never indulge in illegal filesharing. All the bluster about illegal downloading has drawn attention away from the real problem, that there are no heroes anymore. When Guy Hands, the new head of EMI said earlier this year that he wanted “to take away the power of his A&R people and give it to the suits – the guys who have to work out how to sell music” he illustrated the problem perfectly. The music business is populated by businessmen with no real love or understanding of the product they’re promoting. It’s telling that EMI doesn’t make a profit on 85% of its output, mainly because they sign abysmal identikit indie bands with an eye on image and a quick profit, who will be dropped before the ink on the contract is dry, instead of looking to find a raw talent and allow it to develop, or they press millions of copies of Robbie Williams’ records that no-one wants to buy, which end up crushed and used for road surfacing in China.

So who were the real heroes? The people who built up the legendary record labels and gave rock and roll to the masses?

Leonard-Chess1They were people like Leonard Chess, who, with brother Phil, took over a small blues label, renamed it Chess Records and championed the best of blues and R&B, giving us the likes of Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson and Chuck Berry from whom pretty much every song you’ll hear on the radio today is descended in some form. The man who understood that recording the blues was about “Rigging a loudspeaker and a microphone at both ends of a sewer pipe (sounds like fun, right?)”. He didn’t just sit in an ivory tower counting his money, he produced the records, guided and guarded his artists, and travelled the country looking for talent that deserved a hearing.

Ahmet Ertegun was another, the co-founder of Atlantic Records, the first real indie label, who brought us Otis Redding, John Coltrane, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, The Rolling Stones and many more. He was an outsider who just loved music. His genius was that he knew deep in his soul that black music was the future. As he said “There’s beautiful music in Ireland. There’s beautiful music of France, but there is only one music that travels everywhere and that’s Black ertegunAmerican Music”. He wasn’t just a label boss; he was a songwriter, a producer, a backing singer, a svengali, a friend and most of all a fan. As Keith Richards put it, “With Ahmet, you weren’t dealing with some hood or lawyer or shyster, which is quite often what you get in the record business. You were talking on level terms with Ahmet. He was intimately involved with what came out under his name.”

Sam Phillips, the leading light of Sun Records where Elvis, Johnny Cash, BB King, and Roy Orbison all made their debuts, and where arguably the first ever rock’n’roll record Rocket 88 was recorded, started his career as a DJ, not a businessman, never became a suit, because his first love was the music not the payoff. His main concern was getting the best out of his artists without stifling them or selling them out for a quick buck and he knew just how to do it. “I think a great part – if not the major part – of my success was working with my artists and I have always considered that God gave me one thing if he didn’t give me anything else, and that was a good ear”, not something the likes of Simon Cowell could ever claim.

There are modern equivalents; the likes of Mo Ostin for instance, who turned the Warner Bros label into an oasis of artistic risk-taking with signings like Joni Mitchell, Frank Zappa, Neil Young and Captain Beefheart, and in the process moostinmade Warners the biggest record company in the world. As Ostin insisted in 1994, “Warner Bros. Records has never been run from the perspective of financial people or legal people or promotion people. We’ve always been a label solely about artists and music.” In fact a number of industry wary acts like REM were only persuaded to sign for Warners because of Mo Ostin. They saw the way other musicians were given a level of artistic freedom that other more lucrative offers didn’t guarantee. Ostin left in 1995, as Warners became part of a bigger, more business orientated organisation, to join Dreamworks, and even at the ripe old age of 73 he was still on the look out for new talent, famously trying to buy Oasis from Alan McGee .

The one thing they all have in common is that they were basically A&R men, not businessmen or lawyers and with varying levels of success they gave us the most important, exciting music of the last hundred years and people wanted to hear it, and it still sells today.

One of the Voyager spacecraft is carrying a Chuck Berry song, Johnny B. Goode, and the significance of it was summed up by the son of Leonard Chess “I tell my children it’s amazing that your grandfather produced a record and it’s representing earth to aliens. That’s pretty good for Jewish immigrants from Poland”. In about 40,000 years someone in another solar system might well be duck walking to that song and a whole new market will open up. Someone should tell Guy Hands that his profit and loss sheets won’t ever amount to a hill of beans compared to that.

Thank God for Mental Illness – Brian Jonestown Massacre

Cover of "Thank God for Mental Illness"

Cover of Thank God for Mental Illness

Best known to the general public for his performance in the film Dig, the mad, bad and completely dysfunctional Anton Newcombe heads the motley, ever changing band of performers known as the Brian Jonestown Massacre. Still far too much of a well kept secret for my liking, and despite a tragic spiralling into heroin addiction, this is an extraordinarily prolific band. The magnificent Thank God for Mental Illness was the third, yes third, album by the band in the space of a year. This is an anathema to a music industry which has defined the life of an album as eighteen months and generally refuses to let bands produce more than one album every couple of years. Much is made of the lo-fi approach of bands like the White Stripes but take note Mr White, this album is reputed to have been recorded in one day, at a staggering cost of $17.36, spent, according to Anton, on beer and a tape.


Anton has never been one to hide his influences under a bushel, from the name of the band, a tribute to the legend of Brian Jones, the Stones wayward guitarist, to the full blown homage to the psychedelic era Stones that was Their Satanic Majesties’ Second Request. Mental Illness draws massively on his country and blues and folk influences, with a hefty dose of respect shown to Dylan. Thirteen essentially drumless acoustic tracks which could well have been recorded in the sixties, which isn’t that surprising considering Anton’s residency in the Haight Ashbury district of San Francisco.

The album starts with Spanish Bee, which proves to be one of the stand out tracks.

Half dejected blues song, half flamenco, augmented as it is by some incredibly atmospheric Spanish guitar. Anton’s vocals add another level with his Jaggeresque wailing reminiscent of the Stones’ Play with Me.

As soon as IT Girl kicks in the first song you think of is Simon and Garfunkel’s El Condor Pasa with a layer of dirty country guitar over the top. You could well imagine NickCave doing this song, a lullaby with an edge, with Elvis’s legendary sideman Scotty Moore on guitar.

If you’ve ever listened to the Basement Tapes, the result of Dylan’s sojourn with the Band in Woodstock following his motorbike accident, you’d be forgiven for thinking 13 was an extra long lost track from those sessions recorded when the Stones came round for tea. With the riff taken from The Last Time and a vocal that wouldn’t sound out of place on Highway 61 revisited, and a nifty dose of slide guitar, this is a great song for a drunken singalong after one too many beers.

Imagine Camper Van Beethoven covering Dylan and you might come close to something sounding like The Ballad of Jim Jones. The music is a pure Dylan homage, with some classic harmonica playing, but the voice is more David Lowery. One of the best tracks on the album it brings Appalachian folk music right up to date and chucks in a hint of gospel.

Those Memories is a simple little folksy love song with added vocals from a girl called Sophie. You could imagine this as a duet between the Weavers’ Ronnie Gilbert and Pete Seeger, sitting on a front porch somewhere in middle America.

Thankfully, despite his declared love of several Manchester bands, Simply Red aren’t among them, and the next track Stars isn’t a cover of their song of same name.  Anton’s almost whispering voice backed by some beautiful echoey acoustic guitar sounds stunning and evokes memories of Gram Parson’s emotional rendition of Do Right Woman.


Free And Easy, Take 2 is a folk song with an altcountry sensibility. Anton’s incredibly versatile voice sounding here more Johnny Cash than Bob Dylan.


The sixties flavour comes back with a vengeance with the first bars of Down, a trancy, psychedelic meandering song, amply demonstrating Anton’s long time love of Syd Barrett, it sounds remarkably like a requiem.

Cause I Love Her is unashamedly a nod to the early Beatles, both musically and vocally, with the title giving it away before you’ve even heard the song.

The instrumental Too Crazy to Care strikes you as the perfect description of the band and sounds like a short but sweet alcohol fuelled jam.

In the sleeve notes to Take It From The Man, Anton insists that “the ghost of Brian Jones came to me in the studio and asked me to make this record.” I reckon Talk-Action=Shit would be the BJM song of which Brian Jones would have been most proud. Returning to early Stones R&B, the lyrics are a little dig at musicians who fall for the rock’n’roll lifestyle rather than the music “well, I went over to his house to play, but we didn’t do a thing all day, in fact I never saw a guitar in his hand”. Whoever the slacker was, he inspired a great song.


True Love wouldn’t have been out of place on Cave’s Murder Ballads, sounding as gloomy as Where the Wild Roses Grow, but without the Antipodean songstress.

The album ends with Sound of Confusion, a 32 minute opus which starts with six and a half minutes of street sounds recorded while driving a car. Slightly out of kilter with the rest of the album it’s actually an amalgam of five shorter tracks that might have sat better on Bravery, Repetition and Noise, but hey, this is Anton, and a little randomness is to be expected.

You might be forgiven for assuming that the Brian Jonestown Massacre are no more than revisionists harking back to the sixties but you’d be wrong. This album, in all it’s greatness isn’t representative of their output, in fact you could say none of their albums could be held up as and example of the definitive BJM sound. You can hear anything from the Byrds to Bauhaus, from My Bloody Valentine to the Velvet Underground, this is a band that takes the best of the bunch and beats them at their own game. If all you know of them is the portrayal in Dig of a band trying to self destruct, think again. As Anton once said, “My greatest weapon is that I’m underestimated by everybody.”