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Made in Shoreditch

I also contribute a weekly column to Made in Shoreditch magazine called 'Old East End/New East End', where I look at the relationship between the East End of old and new, looking at the changes and the stalwarts in landscape, residents and culture, focussing on one street or district each week. You can find it here.

Outstaying One's Welcome

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Watching The X Factor last night, for the first time this series, I could not help feeling that the show really is now like an unwanted homeless guy asking for change as you puff away outside a local boozer. It thinks it is far more entitled to your money and attention than it actually is and it hangs around, begging for your hard-earned until you move away (or, in the case of The X Factor, you stop watching - which it seems lots of us have done). It even has the tired, sad narratives before each talentless buffoon sings for their supper (this analogy works on many levels, I know) all the while expecting you to invest in it monetarily by paying over a quid's premium to vote on who stays. OK, so it doesn't then ask if it can steal one of your smokes once you shoo it away, granted, but then again, the homeless guy doesn't want over an hour of your Saturday night to listen to his wretched tales or warbling singing, but just half a minute or so before donation.

Simon Cowell - It's all in the marketing!

Indeed, The X Factor has become a lot less relevant (to use a phrase so favoured by its creator, Simon Cowell). Apparently it is suffering in the ratings stakes, which would affirm the aforesaid statement, and it may lose out to Strictly Come Dancing - always a pointless Saturday night event, at least The X Factor had its moment in the sun - this year overall. I think without Simon Cowell it is just not as entertaining personally. Yes, he is devoid of the slightest thread of moral fibre and says "look" before uttering a statement way too much, but the guy is bloody charismatic - like it or not. Playing the 'bad guy' and talking straight, Cowell gave the show a likeable villain; like a Jimmy Conway of Saturday night TV. Now he's been replaced by that absolutely personality-devoid fat bloke from Take That and, quite frankly, this is not satisfactory.

Anyway, back to the point. The X Factor has gone on for too long. Not content with taking up the whole of  every winter this side of 2004, it has now become a straggler of the worst kind. Maybe, the formula has just proved too, well, formulaic. The weird act who cannot sing (for this see Wagner and Jedward in the past and Rylan this year), the rags to riches story (for this see singing binman Andy Abraham and struggling single mum Rebecca Ferguson in the past and North East lad James Arthur this year, who amusingly mis-spelled insane as inane when tweeting in reply to Jermaine Defoe tweeting about him - see it here) and the stupidly named groups (previously see 4Tune and the hilariously lazily titled Girlband and District3 this year) have all begun to grate harder than a freshly-bought 'Ped Egg'.

Girlband - Wordplay wonder women

Like a recurring wisdom tooth problem, The X Factor is now an unnecessary pain in the molars we could all do without. Nevertheless, it will be the talk of that other pointless mass-marketed tripe medium; the tabloid. Nonetheless, cretinous Facebook friends aplenty will vent their disgust at Tulisa's comments about Kye Sones (what kind of bloody name is that?) and Louis kicking out some unfortunate wannabe. Regardless, culturally-bereft TV shows like ITV's lame breakfast show Daybreak will run features on who stayed and who went each week.

The X Factor has run its course, but you can be sure that Cowell and ITV will want to squeeze every last penny out of it. Instead of calling it a day to keep the show's place in televisual history unquestionable, they will run it and run it until it becomes about as wanted as another Only Fools and Horses Christmas special or another of Jeremy Clarkson's publicly-declared viewpoints. Those with good artistic sense, like Ricky Gervais, know how to say no to another series of something which has proven to be a huge hit just because it will pay well, however, the team behind The X Factor will take something which was a previously-enjoyable cultural phenomenon and turn it into television as Chinese water torture. Only when it becomes completely unprofitable will they stop.

The X Factor is dead, however it will live longer and longer in a vegetative state rather than doing the decent thing and buggering off I fear.

This kid must have been wishing these two would bugger off I imagine also.

The Cynic

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

I've often heard folk tell me I'm a cynic. If, for instance, I question the conventional wisdom on a given matter - like 'politicians go into politics for the right reasons to begin with' or 'Islam and Christianity are peaceful religions' - I generally find some eternal bloody optimist telling me that I've got a cynical view of the world and that I should not be so inclined. Well, bollocks to that.

Usually I distrust memes, but...

The cynic is a much maligned character in social circles. If one attends a party where some annoyingly smug chap happens to be drawling on about how wealthy he is, one may be inclined to question if said chap genuinely is so loaded - for if he were, why would he need to be reassuring us (himself?) that he is so? If this is one's reaction, he or she will be faced with a "you're so cynical" or "why can't you just take things at face value" type of reaction. However, it is my belief that we must always question.

Western philosophy and science are built upon the very foundations of what most people pseudo-sagaciously term cynicism. The idea of taking things at face value didn't work very well, for example, when the pious were the ruling elite. Galileo built a telescope which contradicted the Christian theory of a higher power to some degree and was thus punished with unnecessary severity for his actions. Darwin kept The Origin of Species locked away for twenty years due to his concerns that going against the church might not be the most mortality savvy idea. In not accepting the given word as definite, and probing to find out more Galileo and Darwin were acting, in the eyes of the eternal optimists, in a rather cynical fashion were they not? Would anybody reasonably suggest that Galileo's or Darwin's actions were worthy of a term with negative connotations? To the latter I would suggest (and hope) not.

Teenage Fanclub - Song to the Cynic

If there is a major flaw in the blase use of 'cynic' as a term (and there is) it is that it applies something negative to something that is undeserved of such action. Something which has recently triggered this irked riposte you are reading to that very labeling happened to me not too long ago. For the job which I am currently doing, I had to take a personality test (yes, the corporate powers that be now want to know if you'll fit in to their ideology before they rob you of your time and soul for a measly financial reward). While it seems that I am not a pathos-worthy schizoid with a semi-maniacal outlook, the test did flag up that I have a 98% distrust of others complex (quite how one can put a number on such a trait I don't know). In other words, it showed up that I have a cynical outlook on human beings and their potential actions. I would, to some degree, agree with this - especially in the context of the questions that the test asked. Upon being asked whether or not I think a worker will slack off when the boss isn't looking or whether or not I think a boss will screw an employee over if they can get away with it I answered yes (note: this wasn't the exact wording of the questions or answers, but they were words to that effect). I stand by this. Having been screwed over before by bosses before and having slacked off when a boss wasn't looking before I think I made the right choice. I would imagine that most people would answer these questions in the same way, provided they were being genuinely honest.

The point here is that humans do questionable things or things they should not do every single day and with this being the case, some of us wise-up and realise that if it has happened many times before, there is a good likelihood it will happen again and, as such, we must scrutinise and act with vigilance. It would seem others, however, are flatly happy to be trodden on, so long as their world view of "everything is perfect, nobody will ever try to do something nasty to me" can stay protected. While I do concede that this is a nice world view, in fact, it is one I would love to be true, it simply is not.


Contrarians like the late great author and journalist Christopher Hitchens and his prosaic idol George Orwell often wrote in a style that to the eternal optimist would seem cynical. With that in mind, I'd like to say that I would rather be a Hitch or an Orwell than be anything like those pie-in-the-sky dreamers.

I may well be a cynic or a pessimist or have an unreasonably distrusting view of people, but, quite frankly, I could not care less if this is the case. In fact, I celebrate it because it makes more sense than believing in unilateral goodness amongst others.

Music in Review: The Clash

Monday, 1 October 2012

For the first of these backward-glancing features I shall review the early music of the revered punk-cum-rock-cum-reggae behemoths; The Clash. From their eponymous debut album - a punk classic of three chord angst built from the garage rock model with political aspirations and London imagery in equal measure - up to the more polished faux punk of Give 'em Enough Rope, I will dissect, scrutinise and critique the early musical content of a band who truly understood that every facet - image, politics, music and ideology among others - of a band is fundamental to their legend making.

The Clash - roots rock rebels. 

Early period (The Clash, Give 'em Enough Rope and early singles) - If The Clash had faded off into the sunset after their first two album releases and never made another record, they still would have gone down as one of , if not the finest punk bands to have emerged from the '76 - '77 brigade.

Straight from the bat, the explosive first single, White Riot, aggressively called white youths to riot like their black counterparts with Strummer asking"are you taking orders?" spikily. The simple a chord/d chord rhythmic blast of ferocious punk hits the desired spot (the jugular) and its parent album, The Clash, performs a similar trick. The album has points which lull the listener into a false sense of security - see Mick Jones's softer vocal approach or the break down section in Police & Thieves - only to throw an expert sonic uppercut as one settles - see Strummer's growled, snarling vocal attack or the lead back into the fight scene-worthy crescendo that spills out of Police & Thieves's break down. The first run of singles (from White Riot to the majestic White Man (in Hammersmith Palais)) and that eponymous first record showcase the sheer dynamism and force The Clash had, while also showcasing Mick Jones's melodic touch and the substance and brutality of Strummer's poetry.


On their second album, 1978's Give 'em Enough Rope, The Clash decided to bring in Sandy Pearlman on production duty. The result was a slightly watered-down outcome which the band's record label, CBS, thought might break The Clash in the USA. It did not have the desired effect.

Certainly, the album sparkles at points, none less so than in the swashbuckling devilry of Safe European Home, but at too many points it fails in its objective - to bring true London punk to the world - by failing to indeed be true London punk.

As a whole, this period of Clashology proves to be a focal point. Without the lessons learned from this early education, one would struggle to grasp where they were coming from on their undoubtedly more intriguing work later on in their tenure or indeed how they got there.