Britpop and nostalgia, plus the race for the Premiership

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It’s twenty years since the era of ‘Britpop.’ This of course has led to nostalgic reminisces mainly from BBC six music about the period and what it meant for Indie music.

Of course for some people it’s the soundtrack of their youth and certain tracks or bands will bring back fond memories. However it could be argued that it was a scene created by journalists and marketing officials of record companies. Added to which was the rise of ‘laddism,’ with the launch of men’s magazines such as Loaded.

For some reason this was tied in with the music of the time as well as providing a soundtrack to the Mockney, cartoon, gangster, Guy Ritchie films such as ‘Lock, stock, and two smoking barrels.’ In many ways Britpop was about nostalgia itself as it yearned back to the late 1960’s and tried to portray itself as a modern Austin Power era.

In many ways one of the fashionable drinks at the time alcopops perfectly summed up the period. A soft drink pretending that it was hard and not quite as nice to drink despite the attractive advertisement.

As with many periods there is quite a lot of dross that populated the charts but there are always bands that still stand the test of the time. The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, The Smiths, Sex Pistols, to name but a few are examples of bands from the sixties to the eighties that stood out.

Despite being one of the biggest bands during the 90’s Oasis sound more dated than the influences that they blatantly imitated. Listening to some of Oasis’s track such as ‘champagne supernova,’ sounds like a self-indulgent, long-winded track.

‘Rock n roll star,’ sounds very tired and dare I say it boring. ‘Peel away the sticker over ‘shakermaker,’ and you’ll find the song ‘I’d like to teach the world to sing,’ whilst ‘Cigarettes and alcohol,’ is a blatant rip off of T-Rex ‘get it on.’

At the time when Definitely Maybe was released I never really got the appeal. It was just an average Indie rock album with nothing that particularly stood out. Listening to it  now and the follow-up album ‘What’s the story?’ it sounds very tired and old hat. Ironically the few tracks that I don’t mind mainly appear on the Masterplan B side’s album with ‘talk tonight,’ and ‘half the world away.’

If I’m being cruel I’d say Oasis is today’s ‘Dad’s rock album.’ You can see Dad packing the kids into the car for a day trip as he excitedly throws on his best of Oasis album. The kids start to grimace as Dad shouts over the nasal whine of Liam, ‘that this is real music and not the rubbish of today.’ By the time Dad starts to bellow out the busker’s and karaoke favourite ‘Wonderwall,’ they will be on the phone to the NSPCC citing torture.

Blur to me were more musically talented and a lot of their tracks still stand out. ‘For tomorrow,’ ‘Tracy Jacks,’ ‘End of a Century,’ and ‘to the end,’ are still fantastic songs. ‘Modern life is rubbish,’ ‘Parklife,’ albums may have some tracks that are slightly dated or naff (more of which I’ll come to later) but the majority are still strong.

The album ‘blur,’ shows the new direction that they took with a new lo-fi feel to it. If anything it was probably Blur’s best album.

This though doesn’t excuse the truly awful songs that epitomised Brit Pop. Even now I feel the rage slowly building up when I hear the opening of ‘Country House,’ ‘Parklife,’ and ‘Girls & Boys.’ Blur will never be forgiven by me for producing such dirge.

Pulp were another band that produced some good tracks. ‘Common People,’ ‘mis-shapes,’ ‘sorted for E’s and whizz,’ are songs that still sound okay on the radio.

Supergrass are a band who matured well once you get past ‘alright,’ but then thinking about it they were responsible for pumping on your stereo, Grace, and caught by the fuzz. However ‘In it for the money,’ is a good album whilst the ‘road to Rouen,’ which came much later in the noughties stands out as a first class album.

Equally the Super Furry Animals still stand out with each album showing their strengths as artists. ‘Guerrilla,’ and ‘Mwng,’ are two outstanding albums with tracks such as Demons from Radiator and ‘If you don’t want me to destroy you,’ from Fuzzy Logic showed their talent for song writing.

However most of Brit Pop was pretty rubbish. ‘Ocean Colour Scene,’ ‘Cast,’ and Dodgy produced some bland imitation of rock whilst ripping off much better artists from the sixties.

The Boo Radley’s and Menswear were just so appalling that they should have been banned. Personally I still feel that awful nausea that you get after with a hangover when I hear the naff, chirpy strains of ‘Wake up Boo.’

Kula Shaker was another dreadful band although embarrassingly I bought their album ‘K,’ which I felt, was fantastic at the time. It’s only trying to listen to it now that I realise how pretentious and bad the album was.

Although Elastica had plenty of attitude, their songs were just too influenced by punk and in particular the Stranglers. ‘Waking up,’ is such a blatant rip off of ‘no more heroes,’ that it was hardly a surprise that the Stranglers took them to Court. Consequently even at the time I’d rather listen to the original source who were better.

Admittedly there are some songs from that era that I don’t really mind. Sleepers ‘Inbetweener,’ Garbage ‘Only happy when it rains,’ are well crafted songs with the Divine Comedy’s ‘something for the weekend,’ are also pretty decent.

I also like Mansun’s ‘taxloss,’ but this may have something to do with the video where the band threw £25,000 worth of fivers across Liverpool Street station. All you see is people swooping in like a tourist throwing bread for the pigeons. Furthermore I quite like the sentiment behind it.

Nevertheless music is judged by how good it is and also whether it can stand the test of time. Most of Britpop doesn’t hold up to it and that was even during the nineties.

Quite simply the music wasn’t that great with only Blur, Supergrass, and the Super Furry Animals evolving and showing the talent that they had.

Maybe it was fun for those that were involved but I always thought Britpop was false and all about image. It was just too ‘Mockney,’ for me, where it was okay to be a prick if you followed that laddism culture. For some strange reason it also wallowed in nostalgia itself as it harked back to an Austin Powers Britain that never was. Perhaps that’s why I’m not wallowing in this reminiscing of Britpop despite growing up in it.

The race for the title

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I have to admit like many other Liverpool supporters I never thought we would be challenging for the title at the start of the season. In fact I was just looking at trying to get into the top four and hopefully win one of the domestic cups.

Despite what some journalists say it is not a given that Liverpool will win it. Equally I am also aware as are countless others, that Chelsea are still very much in it as are Man City. Reporters such as Amy Lawrence (someone who I normally respect) shrieking the obvious about Chelsea still having a chance. Are they hoping if Chelsea win the league they will be seen as an Oracle? Either way, it’s a ‘no shit Sherlock,’ statement to make.

This season though has been like a dream and its credit to Brendan Rodgers coaching skills and the players that we have come so far. In fact we have been ‘poetry motion!’ The atmosphere at the match has been fantastic with people getting in early and indeed it is a bit like old times.

Naturally there is a sense of tension as the season draws to an end. Indeed I thought the fella next to me was having a heart attack after we went two up against Man City. The excitement is there for each game but nobody as far as I am aware is taking it as a given that Liverpool will win the league.

In fact as I write this I can already feel the nerves prior to Sunday’s game against Norwich. It’s a mixture of excitement, anticipation, and worry about getting a result. In short it’s about trying not to get too carried away as any disappointment always hurts more. At the same time though you want to enjoy it and let’s face it, it will have been a fantastic season as the football has been a joy to watch this season. However if we can get through the nerves and show our full support for the Reds, who knows we could be Champions for the nineteenth time!

Brian Benjamin

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If you value democracy, then it’s time to abolish the Monarchy

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‘You guy’s still have royalty?’ The American comedian Doug Stanhope says incredulously. ‘How embarrassing is that? You have Queen’s, Dukes, and Princesses. Do you have Wizards and fairies, and dragons? What kind of dungeon’s and dragon’s bullshit is that?’ ‘I am expected to apologise for George Bush. How dare you even make fun of any democratically elected official when you still have this Dark Age’s nonsense going on.’

This to me pretty much sums up the Royal family. An archaic system, that promotes privilege to an elite few. It represents what’s wrong with the UK in the sense of a class system who are expected to rule whilst the rest are there to serve.

In a supposedly democratic country it is quite ridiculous that the Head of State is not elected by the people but obtains the position through an accident of birth. On top of this the Royal family are seen as being more superior than the rest of us mere mortals.

There is the argument that the Royal family no longer has any real power. Its function is more ceremonial and even acts to prevent any individual abusing their position.

This though is untrue. For starters the Queen can actually dissolve parliament and appoint the Government of their choice. In January 2013 the Guardian reported the extent of influence of being able to veto and consent to bills. The Queen completely vetoed in 1999 a private member’s ‘Military Actions against Iraq’ bill that sought to authorise military strikes against Iraq from the Monarchy to Parliament. In total the article specifically mentioned thirty-nine bills that needed Royal consent before it could be passed.

Prince Charles had met with Government Ministers thirty-six times to discuss various policies since the coalition Government was formed in 2010. In another report again in the Guardian, an article states that Prince Charles had been given the opportunity to veto at least twelve Government bills that may affect his interest.

The report is unable to confirm whether there have been any changes due to Royal influence but even if that is not the case it does not make it right. Any bills or laws should be debated and decided by the people which is through their elected official.

Nor should one person or family should have this type of power and influence who are not elected. After all a leader should be answerable to the people who they have chosen.

There is also the little matter of Royal Prerogative which means decisions can be taken without consulting Parliament which is now normally done through the Consultation of the Prime Minister. This is something that has caused controversy such as Edward Heath in 1972 bringing Britain into the EEC and consulting Parliament afterwards. Margaret Thatcher similarly used the Royal Prerogative to go to war in the Falklands in 1982.

Supporters of the Monarchy will state that these laws and privileges are never used by the Monarchy who are led by the elected Government of the day. This though shows that the Royal Family have used this power. Furthermore it is not a particular strong argument when there is always the chance it could be used.

Another argument by Monarchists is about tradition and that somehow they are part of our heritage which would be lost if we abolished the Royal family. Bear baiting, duelling with guns or swords also used to be a tradition but times do move on.

If you mention about the Royals being part of our history well other countries such as France, Russia, Germany, and Italy have managed to cope fine with having an elected head of state. History will always be there but like everything else you have to move forward and if you want a true democracy then it is the people who should be deciding its head of state.

The mention of the money that the Royal family bring through tourism always brings a wry smile to my face. It’s as though money should be a factor over democracy. Forget about British Citizens having a say in the running of their country or politicians being answerable to the people the Monarchy is the only thing that brings money in. If the Monarchy was abolished, tourists would still visit Britain. France attracts a lot of tourists as does the USA.

Sometimes the argument turns nasty when you point out how undemocratic and how much power the Royal family really have. Republicans are accused of being unpatriotic and tarred as being a bolshie militant who wants to turn the UK into the old Soviet Union.

Aside from the fact that I am wary of anyone who wraps themselves in a flag to try to prove a point, I always quote Johnny Rotten who said about the Sex Pistols track ‘God save the Queen,’ ‘You don’t write God save the Queen because you hate the English race, you write a song like that because you love them, and your fed up with them being mistreated.’

The Queen is the head of the establishment. It conveys a message that they are born to rule and we are there to serve. A system like this promotes inequality where certain aspirations are ‘not for the likes of us.’ It promotes a gulf between people simply because of class.

Looking at the set up of the Monarchy is quite ridiculous that Royalty are treated as something special and unique and that in someway they are some sort of divine being and have the right to rule.

I have not heard one argument from a Royalist that has made me think that they have a point. Yes, you can argue that the political system is flawed but it would be a start to abolish the Monarchy and to also get rid of the House Lords. In their place we should have an elected head of state and an elected second house. Only then can we can make a move in the right direction and be able to call Britain a true democracy. I for one I’m not happy to be a peasant and want Britain to be ruled by the people instead of an antiquated system of privilege.

I’ll end as they used to do in the olden days with the National anthem.  Well the Sex Pistols version.

Brian Benjamin

Indie authors & It’s a shame about Matt

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 If there was ever a good time to be a wannabe writer, then that time is probably now.  Whereas before it would be a case of sending stuff out in the hope a literary agent will sign you, there is the internet and the chance to self publish.

This means that there is more choice out there if you’re willing to explore.  Some of it might be rubbish or you might discover a gem.  Either way you get a chance to hear someone’s voice and in many ways a raw story from the soul.  There is something more genuine as many Indie writers enjoy writing and yearn for their voice to be heard.

I myself I’m an Indie author having self-published through Create Space.  My book is called ‘It’s a shame about Matt.’ A story about a really rubbish psychic called Mystic Ozzy who in one of his séance genuinely makes contact with a real ghost. Matt has to convince Ozzy that he is real in order to pass on a message so that he can pass over the other side.

Below is a brief synopsis about the book but be warned there are spoilers.  If it interests you the book can be downloaded here

http://www.amazon.co.uk/shame-about-Matt-other-stories-ebook/dp/B00EUBASUC/ref=sr_1_1_bnp_1_kin?ie=UTF8&qid=1395516569&sr=8-1&keywords=it%27s+a+shame+about+matt

Or if you prefer the hard copy can be bought here

http://www.amazon.co.uk/shame-about-Matt-other-stories/dp/1492309230/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1395516569&sr=8-1

What is ‘It’s a shame about Matt,’ about?

Views on psychics are pretty much mixed.  Some people earnestly believe that there is a spirit world and these people have the talent to make contact.  So much so that they tell you the spiritualist disclosed stuff that they could not have possibly known.

Others like myself are shall we politely say are cynical of mediums and ghostly goings on.  In my opinion people want to believe that there is something after this life and in some cases, want to be reassured that their loved ones who have passed away are now at peace.

Some mediums may genuinely believe that they have ‘the gift,’ and some may be taking advantage by using various techniques such as cold reading.

Either way it formed a basis of a story as I wanted to write about a really bad psychic who does make contact with a real ghost but thinks he’s going mad.  The spirit needs him to pass a message on and subsequently has to convince the psychic that he is real.

There is a dark side to the story as I also wanted to discuss depression, suicide, and the after effects that this has on family and friends.  It’s not an easy or comfortable topic to read so the novel is a dark comedy so to speak, as Ray the psychic bungles from one disaster to the next with his outlandish messages causing outrage.

In one scene he accuses a member of the audience of being a Nazi in a previous life, whilst in another he informs them that their Uncle is really their Dad.

Matt on the other hand had been suffering from depression when he was alive.  Sadly it gnaws away at him so much so that he feels that he has no option but to take his life.

As anyone who has suffered from this illness, knows it is hard to shake off the dark feelings that have engulfed you.  Where there is no purpose to anything and you feel so numb.

Suicide causes a huge ripple amongst family and friends.  Not only do they have to deal with the sudden shock and cause of the death but there people blaming themselves. For example they should have seen the signs, why couldn’t they talk to me?  I should have been there for them.  The circle of questions goes on as each scenario is re-lived prior to their loved one’s death.

These are some of the feelings that Matt’s brother Dylan and his ex-girlfriend Natasha have after his death.  In some ways there will always be Matt’s ghost haunting them.

Matt wants Ray to pass on a message to Dylan and Natasha as to why he killed himself and for them not to blame themselves.  In many ways he wants to explain the low moods and what it felt like to wake up each day feeling no hope or taking any enjoyment in life itself.  To Matt that is for other people whilst misery and a feeling of nothing is all he has to look forward to.

As the depression gets worst Matt takes the extreme way out by hanging himself.  It is Dylan who finds him and blames himself for leaving him by himself whilst he goes to his girlfriend.

Natasha blames herself for pushing Matt over the edge as his depression sees her ending their relationship but feels she should have done more.

This does sound heavy so it was important to try to use humour through the crass actions of Ray’s inability as a psychic.  On top of this there are the exchanges between Ray and Matt.  The two are complete are opposites but build a strong relationship as they help each other towards their quests.

Ultimately though the aim of the story is to give a person an insight in what it is to be depressed. For the loved ones left behind it is also trying to explain their emotions and feelings as they try to come to terms.

If you want to read something dark and different with a twist of comedy then hopefully this book will be for you.

Incidentally there is a selection of short stories from a Lottery winner who tries to live in the fast lane with his young girlfriend to someone who fought in the International Brigade reminiscing.  For those of us that have worked in a customer service type role there is also a tale about an obnoxious customer getting their comeuppance!

So go on, give an Indie author a go!

http://www.amazon.co.uk/shame-about-Matt-other-stories-ebook/dp/B00EUBASUC/ref=sr_1_1_bnp_1_kin?ie=UTF8&qid=1395516569&sr=8-1&keywords=it%27s+a+shame+about+matt

http://www.amazon.co.uk/shame-about-Matt-other-stories/dp/1492309230/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1395516569&sr=8-1

B. Benjamin

Underrated bands

There are some bands that are quite understated. Whilst the likes of the Arctic Monkeys get the plaudits and the Black Keys finally get the recognition that they deserve, there are other bands that for whatever reason didn’t get the praise that they warranted.

Some of their tracks you might have heard on advertisements due to it being cheaper for the company to use rather than say using the Rolling Stones.  Anyhow here are my recommendations that are worth a listen.  Who knows you might be pleasantly surprised.

Soledad Brothers

Hailing from Maumee, Ohio, USA the Soledad Brothers really should have become big. In some ways they were the promising youth player who everybody confidently predicted was the next Ronaldo. Sadly despite the talent they never quite made it.

The band consisted of Johnny Walker (vocals), Henry Oliver, and Ben Swank on drums. A garage blues band that stood out from the usual paint by names of similar bands.

Indeed you could imagine yourself in a small, crowded, cellar as you feel the heat and sweat as the loud, rough, and menacing guitars growling loudly.   Johnny Walker’s voice had real attitude which literally made you sit up and take notice.

It is quite hard for a blues band to stand out as it’s difficult to already surpass the greats such as Elmore James, Robert Johnson whilst some new blues bands are just too polished and neat to be really labelled a blues band.

Admittedly the Soledad Brother’s appear to be influenced by the Rolling Stones, Canned Heat, and Led Zeppelin but like many blues artist make their own take of their influences unique.

Five albums were released between 1998 and 2006 before they sadly broke up with Johnny Walker going back to medicine and becoming a paediatrician. It’s hard to pick a specific album but it might be best trying the live album whilst the other albums are Soledad Brothers, steal your soul and dare your spirit to move, voice of treason, and the hardest walk.

Tracks to try
Break ‘em on down, Gospel according to John, Gimmie back my wig, cage that tiger, Truth or consequences, Downtown paranoia

(Gospel according to John above)

The Bees (or A band of bees as they are known in the USA)

Hailing from the Isle of Wight there’s a good chance that you might have heard a Bee’s track on various adverts. The influences vary from the blues, psychedelic, reggae, jazz, and country to name just a few strands.

The Bees second album ‘free the bees,’ (which was released in 2004) should have propelled them to the top. Despite the album receiving high praise from critics it’s highest position was only 26.

Unlike the first album Sunshine hit me which was recorded in the front man Paul Butler’s garden shed, free the bees was recorded at Abbey Road. This though is the album to have with every track a joy. From the opening haunting track to ‘these are the ghosts,’ to the jovial ‘chicken payback,’ it is a joy to the ears.

Maybe it’s because you can sense the fun, energy, and love that they have in their music but ultimately it’s an album that warms your heart and more importantly great to listen to.

Album to try: Free the bees
Other albums: Sunshine shine on me, Octopus, Every step’s a yes
Tracks to try: A Minha Menina, Chicken Payback, These are the ghosts, Wash in the rain, Horsemen

(Wash in the rain above)

The Beta Band

With the release of heroes to zeros in April 2004 this really should have been the album that propelled the Beta Band into the lime light. Sadly internal strife within the band (mainly due to the singer Steve Mason’s depression) they broke up in August of that year.

During that period from when they formed in 1996 they produced some fantastic tracks with a variety of influences that it is hard to pigeon-hole the band. There is a blend of electronic, rock, and experimental sounds that they somehow hit the mark.

Songs such as ‘Dry the Rain,’ are so mellow that you can imagine yourself sat in a large armchair in front of the fire with your eyes closed as the sounds sooth you after a hard day.  Nevertheless some of the lyrics can be quite dark such as ‘choking on the vitamin tablet that the Doctor gave me in the hope of saving me.’

Like all good bands should, the Beta Band can raise a variety of emotions that somehow connect you to the songs.

Incidentally the Beta Band are name dropped in the film High Fidelity with John Cusack’s character declaring ‘I will now sell five copies of the three E.P.’s by the Beta Band,’ which helped raised the profile of the band in the USA.

Albums: The three E.P’s, The Beta Band, Hot Shots II, Heroes to zeroes

Tracks to try: Dry the rain, B&A, Assessment, Outside, Dr. Baker

(Dry the rain above)

Django Django

There’s a good chance that you will have heard a Django Django track either from an advert or a video game. So far they have only released one studio album which got critical acclaim but unfortunately did not score high in the charts.

However don’t let this fact put you off. Indeed right from the opening track appropriately called ‘introduction,’ the throbbing drum beats and vocals give you the sense of the beginning of an adventure as it breaks into a sense of urgency.

The band quite clearly have a variety of influences from electronic, neo psychedelia, and west coast sound to name but a few. Like the Beta Band the harmony of the vocals are reminiscent of the Beach Boys.

Once again the band know how to capture and pull your emotions whether it’s an energetic track like ‘default,’ or the very mellow ‘hand of man,’ each track is a delight with not one filler on this album.

In short if you love music and enjoy a band that love to experiment then you will not be disappointed. Let it be said there is not one song that will have you rushing for the fast forward button.

Album: Django Django

Tracks to try: default, waveforms, Love’s dart, WOR

Default above (P.S. It is not the former Spurs, Chelsea manager Andres Villas Boas on drums).

Can we trust the news?

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Noam Chomsky in the documentary manufacturing consent believes that it is the primary function of the mass media to mobilise public support for the special interests that dominate the Government and private sector.

Chomsky is asked to elaborate on this theme and believes that the concentrated network of major corporations control the media with two groups to be influenced. The first two groups Chomsky illustrates are twenty percent of the population who are perceived to be well-educated such as Doctors, teachers, writers, etc who are supposed to vote. The other eighty percent is to follow orders, not to think, or pay any attention and it is this group that Chomsky believes that pays the costs.

This he feels can be seen in the tabloid press which focuses on the celebs of the day, scandals, and popular television shows such as the X factor or Coronation Street. Its aim is to offer a distraction from the real issues of the day and as a result prevent people from questioning things or getting involved.

Nevertheless it can be argued that the popular press do try to manipulate its readership depending on its political stance. For example during the wave of ‘austerity cuts,’ people on benefits are targeted as feckless scroungers. Anger is raised with headlines such as the Daily Express screeching that there are four million scroungers in Britain,’ whilst the Daily Mail is outraged that ‘seventy five of incapacity claimants are fit to work.’

Instantly people are not questioning the cuts or the tax dodging activities of major companies but the vulnerable and the needy. There are no questions why some people are working but with their pay so low have to claim tax credits. Nor are there questions about the cost of living rising so high that the use of food banks is on the increase. An interesting point is made by the former Lib Dem PM Sarah Teather who believes the attacks on people on benefits is more of a tactical strategy to gain popular electoral support for next year’s elections.

Reading between the headlines

The general view within the popular press is that the majority of its readers only look at the headlines. Consequently you can imply something to garner support such as this headline from the Daily Star a couple of years back ‘Asylum cheaters let off with £70 million.’

By reading the story more closely it was down to the Home Office making the mistakes with overpayments going directly to the hostel owners who provide accommodation to asylum seekers and therefore have no influence on the payments. It was also found that Home Office staff had also been wrongly over paid.

However by reading the initial headline you would assume that asylum seekers have deliberately connived and plotted to obtain money dishonestly.

The Sun newspaper has only recently just stopped the practice of using their page three girls to sell their editorial opinion as the model’s own. Tim Ireland on bloggerheads exposes the propaganda used to pursue the paper’s political stance. For example one model praises Tony Blair for taking action in Iraq whilst another praises a Government initiative. This practice stopped in July 2013 but shows the lengths some media outlets use to promote their own agenda.

Influences on Government

If it wasn’t already known how much influence that Murdoch had on the Government then the Leveson inquiry made that abundantly clear. Jack Straw when speaking at the inquiry stated ‘What I perceive of Mr Murdoch’s approach, particularly with the Sun and the News of the World, was that he reckoned that his political influence would be greater, if as it were, his support was available in return for what he thought he could get out of it.
‘And I don’t mean some deal, because I’ve seen no evidence of a deal. But he thought there was something in it.’
This came about after the phone hacking scandal that saw the end of the News of the World. The actual scale of the hacking was breathtaking as the phones of celebrities was hacked and even more shockingly the murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, victims of 9/11 were also alleged to have been hacked.

Murdoch it appeared had too much of an influence on politicians. For example the Fox news network is so right-wing that it is now seen as a joke. However this has not stopped Murdoch who before the hacking scandal wanted the BBC to be broken up with his son hypocritically comparing the BBC to George Orwell’s 1984. ‘As Orwell foretold, to let the state enjoy a near-monopoly of information is to guarantee manipulation and distortion.’ This incidentally all fell to the wayside as did his bid to take full control of BSkyB.

Of course this works both ways as the majority of newspapers backed the Government’s stance over the 2003 war in Iraq with one headline screeching that Brit’s were ‘forty five minutes from doom!’

Then when it was found that Iraq did not appear to have any weapons of mass destruction (even when they presumably checked underneath Saddam Hussein’s bed) it became a war of liberation, despite the fact that prior to the first Gulf War, in 1990, the Government where quite happy to do business with Saddam Hussein.

Indeed you can as far back as the 1984 miners strike and the Printers dispute in 1986 were the majority of the media were not only openly hostile to the strikers but biased towards the Government.

Forget the fact that the miners and printers were fighting not just for their livelihoods but the very communities themselves. Indeed there were a large percentage of mines that still had plenty of coal to make themselves economically viable for at least the next twenty years.

Media coverage gave the impression that miners and printers were attacking the ‘valiant,’ Police Force who were doing their best of keeping law and order. No mention of the Police attacking peaceful pickets or running amok amongst small mining towns, or of the fact that mysteriously their lapels with the Officers number were missing, or of miners being beaten up in custody. The battle of Orgreaves is a case in point.

Hillsborough

It has taken twenty-three years for the truth to be acknowledged when David Cameron in 2012 apologized for the failure that caused Hillsborough and the attempted cover up. Documents from the independent Hillsborough panel found that there was a failure of the authorities to protect people and an attempt to blame the fans.

This was seen with high-ranking officials in the South Yorkshire Police and the Conservative MP Irvine Patrick who fed stories to the media and led to the Sun’s disgusting headline ‘the truth.’ It was in short a disgraceful attempt to cover up the incompetence of the authorities. As a result the newspaper is boycotted and reviled in Merseyside for its lies.

Coverage and bias

Criticism has also been hurled at the BBC and other established media establishments of not being impartial and failing to cover major events in depths. For example the protest against the cuts in the NHS during the anti – austerity rally in Manchester 2013 was scarcely covered, albeit a couple of minutes of airtime on the BBC.

This despite the fact that fifty thousand people had travelled down to the City centre of Manchester, were the Conservative party was holding its annual conference. There where no clips of organisers or protestors to explain the reason why they were protesting, apart from the shout of ‘Tory scum,’ which could give the viewer the impression that it was a just bunch of bolshy left-wing militants stirring up trouble.

Sky news focused on the only arrest of the demonstration even though Greater Manchester Police praised the peaceful and lawful manner of protestors.

Pictures of the actual march were used as wallpaper whilst the political commentator of the BBC talked about the Conservative party conference. The event failed to arouse much interest in the newspapers with only a few column inches at best.

The media coverage during the student protests against tuition fees in early November 2010 was all focused on the violence. However another demonstration two weeks later saw students unnecessarily kettled and then for no apparent reason Police horses charged the protestors.

There was scarcely any coverage apart from the Guardian that used the clip caught by one of the kettled demonstrators. Nor was there any debate about whether kettling was necessary and why the Police felt that it was necessary to charge an already contained crowd with Police horses.

The rise of Social media

With the rise of social media such as twitter, blogs, and access to other news outlets there is a variety of choice in trying to obtain the truth somewhere. For example most phones have cameras and smart phones are now becoming the norm. This means as in the case of the above clip of the Police charging students that the story can get out by people who are actually on the ground.

In turn this means that the traditional press are being forced to follow the story if it becomes big because they cannot allow their rivals to gain an advantage.

Once you were pretty much limited to the popular press for news whereas now there is a lot more choice to get the real story. In essence social media has the potential to make us all journalists and to question more. Maybe the likes of Murdoch who was described by Tunku Varadarajan, the editor of newsweek international as ‘the man whose name is synonymous with unethical newspapers,’ influence might start to wane.

Brian Benjamin

The Magical Magyars

hungaria 1950 Sepuluh timnas terbaik dalam sejarah sepakbola kabarxsepakbola 2014

Ask anyone to name the best team not to have won the World Cup and most people will probably say the 1974 Holland team.  However there is one team whose achievements are sadly overlooked a team containing players such as Fernc Puskas, Sandor Koscis, and Jozsef Bozsik who went on a 31 game unbeaten run due to not only having some of the best players in the world, but being tactically ahead of everyone else and forcing teams like England who saw itself as the home of football to reassess their own approach to playing the beautiful game.

The Magyars were surprisingly beaten 3-2 by West Germany in the final a team that they had thrashed 8-3 previously in the group qualifiers.  To understand fully the quality of the team and the reason why the defeat to Germany was a shock you have to go back to the early 1950’s.

Like most Communist countries of that era sporting teams were affiliated with certain factions of the Government such as the Police, army, certain parts of heavy industry etc, and furthermore recognised sport as a tool for potential propaganda.  Consequently when the Head Coach of the Hungarian national team Gusztav Sebes believed that the only real chance of success was to recruit players from one or two teams (which he believed helped contributed to Italy’s World Cup win in 1938), the army team Honved was to be used for this purpose with potential players given the choice of either serving their national service with the club or at a remote border it was hardly surprising that most players opted for the former.

Sebes therefore was now able to use Honved as a training camp for the National team were the players not only got used to playing with each other but familiarised themselves with the tactics and style of play that was required of them.

The first fruits of success for the Hungarian team came in the 1952 Olympics although a narrow 2-1 victory against Rumania who pulled a late goal in the preliminary round didn’t attract too much attention.  Three changes were made against Italy in the First round with the Hungarian’s romping to a 3-0 victory but it was the thrashing handed out to Turkey (7-1), and Sweden (6-0) in the Semi-Final that made people sit up and take notice of an extremely talented team.  In the final itself Yugoslavia were despatched 2-0 securing Gold for Hungary bringing much relief to Sebes as Jonathan Wilson of Behind the Curtain states that prior to the Final he had received a phone call from Rakosi, General Secretary of the Hungarian Communist party informing him that ‘defeat would not be tolerated.’

England 3 Hungary 6, Wembley Friendly

Nandor Hidegkuti scores Hungary's final goal in their 6-3 win against England at Wembley in 1953

 Despite the shock 1-0 defeat to the USA in the World Cup, three-year previous, England still believed that not only was it the home of football but still the team to beat.  With Hungary’s three year unbeaten run and recent Olympic success, critics hailed the Magyar’s as the current world’s best. Consequently the English FA were keen to put this to the test and arranged a friendly at Wembley with the media billing it as the match of the century.

Sebes as part of his traits was particularly meticulous in his preparation for the match by obtaining English footballs and ensuring that his players played with the balls so that they could get used to the weight particularly as the football absorbed moisture and got heavier as the game went on.  Furthermore due to the wide dimensions of the Wembley pitch, Sebes had one of the training pitches measured specifically to those measurements.

It took only ninety seconds for Bozsik to give Hungary the lead with Jackie Sewell equalising twelve minutes later.  Hungary though continued to dominate and re-took the lead with Puskas scoring the third with a memorable goal as he dragged the ball back with his studs, and in one movement lashed the ball into the back of the net, leaving the England centre-half Billy Wright sprawling in his wake.  Puskas scored another before the breaking and although Mortensen had pulled one back it was 4-2 to Hungary.

The second half continued with the Hungarian’s giving the English a footballing lesson.  This was a surreal moment for the England players and supporters as they believed that English football was still streets ahead of any nation.  Instead they had to suffer the indignity and reality that they were no longer the major force that they once were as Hungary ran out as 6-3 winners which could quite easily have been more to become the first team outside of the Home Nations to beat England at Wembley.  Harry Johnston the England Centre back summed up the feelings of that match.  ‘The tragedy was the utter helplessness… being unable to do anything to alter the grim outlook.’

Hungary were more innovative as they were more fluid and had the ability to interchange for all positions with Sebes declaring it as ‘Socialist football.’  In contrast England were left floundering with the tried and trusted W formation looking tired and past its best.  English football had become tired and complacent with no changes to the style of play since Herbert Chapman’s Arsenal of the 1930’s.

To show that the win was no fluke a second friendly was arranged in Budapest with England to suffer a worse defeat as they were thrashed 7-1.  It meant a major re-think and tactical change for England if they were not to fall further behind other International teams.

The 1954 World Cup Finals

Fußball-WM 1954: Das offizielle Poster

 It was hardly a surprise that Hungary were favourites to be crowned World Champions in Switzerland.  South Korea were hammered 9-0, with West   Germany beaten 8-3.  However there was an element of controversy as with the score 5-1, Puskas was caught from behind by West Germany’s Liebrich and not only was he forced to leave the pitch but missed the next two games as a result.  With West Germany reaching the Final against Hungary it has been debated whether the German’s had deliberately set out to crock Puskas.  In the immediate aftermath after the finals the Hungarian’s believed so but as time went on some believed that there was nothing malicious about the tackle.

The quarter-finals saw Hungary pitted against Brazil but also became known as the ‘battle of Berne,’ due to the violent tackles and petulance during and after the game.  Three players were sent off although the violence didn’t end there as it was alleged that Puskas hit Pinheiro of Brazil with a bottle with reports later blaming a spectator for the assault.  Nevertheless this didn’t stop the Brazilian team storming the Hungarian changing room with more mayhem and fighting breaking out, leading to a Hungarian player being knocked unconscious, and Sebes being struck by a broken bottle.  The result incidentally finished 4-2 in Hungary’s favour leaving them to play current World Champions Uruguay in the Semi-final.

This was regarded as one of the best matches of all time as Hungary threw away a two goal lead with Uruguay forcing the game into extra time as Hohberg struck twice in the last fifteen minutes.  Hungary though remained resilient as Kocsis struck twice to earn Hungary a place in the final against West Germany who had dismissed Austria 6-1.

Miracle of Berne

The omens on the eve of the final were not good.  Firstly the Hungarian side’s sleep was disturbed by the Swiss brass band practising for the Swiss Championship, whilst their team bus was stopped by Police in entering the stadium forcing the players and officials to get past the large crowds just to enter the stadium.  Then there was the weather with the heavy rain turning the pitch into a quagmire hindering the Hungarian’s passing game.

Incidentally the German team were supplied with the latest football boots by Adidas which had screw in studs meaning that they could be adapted for any type of weather unlike the Hungarian’s.

Only five of the players who had started for West Germany prior to the earlier game against Hungary were in the line up for the final.  It was alleged later on that the West German coach Herberger believing that the team was too strong for Turkey in their final game and would do enough to beat the Turks rested key players giving him the opportunity to assess Hungary without giving anything away.  This view was backed up by assistant manager Schon who himself went on to lead West Germany to victory in the 1974 World Cup.

Nevertheless it only took Hungary six minutes for Puskas to give them the lead with Czibor making it 2-0 Hungary, two minutes later.  Morlock pulled one back for West Germany on the tenth minute, with Rahn equalizing for the Germans eight minutes later.

Hungary pushed forward in the second half with the German keeper Turek making a number of fine saves.  However it was the Germans who scored the goal that was to decide the tie as Rahn put West Germany into the lead for the first time with six minutes left on the clock.

Two minutes later Puskas had equalized for Hungary only for the Welsh linesman Melvyn Griffiths to rule it offside.  Even now it is a hotly disputed topic as to whether Puskas was offside who claimed it took the ‘linesman a minute to raise his flag,’ and ‘to lose a World Cup on such a decision isn’t right.’  The decision stood and it was West Germany who were crowned World Champions, and became known in Germany as ‘the victory that made a nation,’ mainly due to raising much-needed morale after the repercussion’s of the Second World War.

Aftermath

 In Hungary though disappointment turned to anger as in Budapest people took to the streets and openly demonstrated against the regime with some believing that the seeds of the 56 uprising were sown.

The political turmoil of 1956 were over two hundred and fifty thousand Hungarian’s demonstrated against the state, as they demanded the withdrawal of Soviet troops, free press and elections as well as the reinstatement of Nagy as Prime Minister escalated into violence causing more uncertainty.

Honved using a European Cup tie against Bilbao took their players on a European tour and accepted an invitation to play a series of friendlies in Brazil and Venezuela.  The Hungarian FA and FIFA declared the tour illegal and with the prospect of suspension or even worse Kocsis, Czibor, and Puskas did not return taking up their careers in Spain with Puskas enjoying more success by joining Real Madrid and even representing Spain four times.  Kocsis and Czibor both joined the Catalan giants Barcelona winning further honours during their time at the club.

Not surprisingly Hungary were never to reach such heights again although they did reach the quarter finals of the 1962 and 1966 World Cup.  However no Hungarian team so far as ever come close to eclipsing the Magical Magyars.

Brian Benjamin

Incidentally there is a great article in the Guardian about how Puskas played for South Liverpool.  Link below.

http://www.theguardian.com/sport/blog/2011/nov/17/the-forgotten-story-ferenc-puskas-merseyside

Game of Thrones

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A huge dragon flies over a City whilst the strain of menacing music plays as the next scene pans to Joffrey who arrogantly declares that he saved the City.  ‘There is good and evil on both sides,’ Jorah Mormont advises Daenerys.  Quickly we pan to swords drawn and then to poor old Tyrion who appears to be in a new load of shit as he is frogmarched in chains.

So many questions, so much intrigue in what is going to happen next in season four of game of thrones.  Will Joffrey finally get his comeuppance and will the remaining Stark’s get any luck and maybe revenge for the Red Wedding and Ned Stark’s death?  These little teasers from the trailer get the blood pumping as the next fix of Game of Thrones fast approaches.

WARNING: SPOILER ALERT IF YOU HAVE NOT READ ALL THE BOOKS

Which is better?  The book or the TV series?

Like many other fans I’ll be looking forward to the new series which begins in April.  Unfortunately I didn’t feel like this when I got up to the fourth book, a Feast for Crows.  George R.R. Martin declared it ‘a bitch to write,’ and I found it a ‘bitch,’ of a read too as it seemed to flounder in the mud, with Martin appearing to lose direction in where he was taking the book.

In many ways I felt Martin had allowed a ball of wool to get unravelled with so many plots, subplots, and new characters that he is now frantically trying to pull all the strands together but is sprawling out of control.

Putting it quite simply Martin needed a good editor to turn around and say that this bit needs cutting.  Why have you introduced this character?  For example we are introduced to the Martell’s who suddenly become major characters and now we’re introduced to the Golden Company with a secret Targaryen who suddenly emerges to have claim to the Iron Throne.

Arya in the meantime is wandering around God knows where as she takes on yet another alias as ‘Cat of the Canals,’ having joined some secret order, the house of black and white or the faceless men as they are also known.

At times it seemed as though Martin was unsure of what the hell he was doing with the characters.  Arya for example would wander around a bit, next up would be Brienne, the next chapter Tyrion riding a pig in some freak circus that he has joined, and then off to Dorne to see what the Sand Snakes are up to.  In the meantime, you the reader would be trying to remember what had happened previously and who is this new Squire or mercenary who has suddenly popped up?

Sensationalism

At times you wondered whether Martin was running out of ideas or maybe even bored.  There have been some awful shocks and behaviour within the novels but Martin was depicting a brutal world which had been turned upside down by war.  However, in the later instalments of the books not only do you become immune to the atrocities but it is so over the top that it appears as though Martin is trying to be shocking for the sake of it.  Ramsey Snow, Bolton’s bastard son acts so despicable that he might as well twirl his moustache. It’s just as well there are no trains in Westeros, as I’m sure some poor damsel would be tied to a rail track as a freight train hurtled down the lines.

That is not to say that all of Martin’s characters are cardboard cut outs.  Indeed one of the strengths and the lure of the books (as well as the television series) is that when he gets it right the characters are fully developed with many complexities that make them human.

Theon Greyjoy is such a character.  All he wants to do his prove himself to his Father and makes one catastrophic decision after the next.  Alfie Allen who plays Theon captures the character brilliantly.  There is the vanity and the resentment over his sister Asha (Yara in the television adaption) who is given the main responsibility of invading the North.  On top of this she is widely respected by her men.

Despite the shouting and long-winded speeches about being ‘Iron born,’ Theon is only tolerated by his men.  At times he looks unsure and tramples into bad judgements believing that this is how he has to act.  The killing of the two mill owner’s children which he tried to pass off as Bran and Rickon is the point of no return.

Tyrion is another great character who again is trying to prove himself to his Father.  He is intelligent, witty, and good-natured who does a brilliant job as the temporary Hand of the King.  It is his decision that helps save the Throne for Joffrey.

Television adaption

HBO have done a first class job of Games of Thrones.  It is for me, one of the few television or film adapation’s that is better than the book.  The novels needed better editing and the fact that Martin intended it to be a trilogy means something has gone badly awry.  There are simply too many strands and too many loose ends that I wonder if even Martin knows how he is going to tidy it up.

The books are certainly not classics and if it wasn’t for the television series would have passed a lot of people by.  For me Patrick Rothfuss (The name of the wind and wise man’s fear) is a much better writer.  There is an eerie, in some ways Brother’s Grimm style to his writing.  Plus it is a much tidier novel without a constant flow of new characters suddenly appearing out of nowhere.

At times you get the impression that Martin has not got a clue with what he is doing with his characters.

For me the television adaption is how the books should have been edited.  It’s more streamlined and like it or not you do get emotionally attached to the characters.  You only have to see the reaction from viewers after the Red Wedding.

That is not to say that I won’t read the next instalment the winds of winter, when it comes out.  Like many I want to see how it’s going to pan out.  Despite the criticisms of the books, I have enjoyed watching Games of Thrones.  I love the political intrigue, the dilemma of right and wrong, plus wanting the villains such as Joffrey and Walder Frey.  I also want to see how Tyrion fares as well as Samwell Tarly who despite being seen as scared and weak, always tries to do the right thing.  Plus I want to see those damn dragons in action!

Brian Benjamin

The next blog on Games of Thrones will be after episode one of the new season.