We Have Brandy And Half Corona

I wrote this, went back to it, re-wrote it, nearly deleted it and then went back to it again and decided to go with it.

Today is a bank holiday in the UK. The traditional May Day bank holiday that should have been on Monday moved to today- not that it matters very much at the moment, almost everyday’s the same anyway. Today’s bank holiday celebrates the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe, the defeat of the Nazis and the end of the Second World War in Europe. This day will be celebrated by some with bunting and socially distant street parties and cosy 1940s vibes, speeches by Churchill and a general sense of national satisfaction. It is a Daily Mail, Tory Party, Brexit, picture postcard version of 1945- cheerful British crowds, Spitfires, the King and Queen waving from the balcony, cucumber sandwiches. I’m uncomfortable with it because it is based on a number of lies and distortions.

The Blitz brought untold suffering to the people of Britain. Two million houses destroyed, 32, 000 people killed and 87, 000 seriously injured by bombs. Cities were flattened. When it began there was no real plan at central or local government level for how to deal with bombing or its aftermath. When the first air raids wiped out whole streets, the local authorities had to invent a response. Clearing bomb sites, digging out survivors and bodies, providing medical care and shelter. Blackout, evacuation, fire wardens and so on were all put in place. Whole families and entire streets were lost. There’s a memorial in Stretford cemetery, just up the road from here, to the residents of Lime Road where multiple houses were flattened by a bomber returning from delivering it’s load to Trafford Park. The wall records the names of fifty people and ‘seventeen unidentified persons’ who were killed in their beds at Christmas 1940, in some cases every member of a family. The trauma that these raids brought is generally overshadowed by the so- called Spirit of the Blitz. Counselling didn’t exist. Dealing with PTSD wasn’t a priority. People buried didn’t talk about it. Even at the time the Spirit of the Blitz was a myth, a propaganda campaign conducted by Lord Beaverbrook, the Daily Express newspaper owner brought into the National Government, to keep spirits up and help win the war. Crime increased during the Blitz. The black market flourished. The King and Queen were booed and jeered  by ordinary Londoners when they visited the East End. Evacuees were often resented by communities and many were treated badly. Public air raid shelters were not widely used, they were often cheaply built, water logged and had a reputation for collapsing. Many people, the poor in the cities, had little or no access to shelters anyway. All in it together?

Newspapers that supported left wing parties were banned under wartime legislation. Churchill wanted to extended the ban to include the Daily Mirror when it published a cartoon critical of his policies in 1942 (above). Under Beaverbrook the newspapers staged photographs of milkmen delivering the daily pint over the wreckage of a bombing raid to keep spirits up. They’d already had to spin the defeat at Dunkirk into a victory. The war was almost lost before it began, 350, 000 troops retreating from the oncoming German army and trapped between them and the sea. This is not to deny the bravery of the men involved but the Dunkirk myth is one of the biggest propaganda spins the British media has ever created. This isn’t to say that keeping spirits up and raising morale aren’t an important job during wartime but the lie has become the truth, officially repeated and that’s the version of the war that is being celebrated today.

During the war some members of the government began to plan for afterwards and there was a growing view that things had to change. The poverty of the 1930s, unemployment, children going hungry, slum housing, no security, were all seen as the old way. There was talk of a new world, of doing away with the old guard and getting it right. Win the war and then win the peace. People started to talk of a welfare state and Sir William Beveridge was asked to write a report. He said that Britain could afford a welfare state and had to afford it, for the national good. Churchill was against it and he began to be seen as the man for the war but not the man for the peace. The British people agreed, removing him from office at the first post- war general election. Ernest Bevin, the trade union leader who was brought into the Wartime Cabinet and in charge of the Ministry of Labour, argued strongly for a welfare state and for post- war security for all, the idea that poverty should be eradicated and that government and the people had a duty to build a fairer society. After all, what was the suffering for, if not this? This has been successively undermined from the 1970s onwards by the right wing press and right wing politicians, with repeated stories of benefit cheats, dependency culture and dole dossers, a concerted campaign to forget that the welfare state was a reaction to the absolute poverty of the 1920s and 1930s and a commonly held desire to provide security for people who had none, who could not afford to visit a doctor, who died because they could not afford medicines, who went hungry when they had no work. The Daily Mail and the Tories who want us to celebrate V.E. Day are the same who want to undermine and override the Second World War’s most long lasting social impact in this country. The causes of the welfare state- war, poverty, inequality, injustice- are ignored in favour of sentimental flag waving and a notion of togetherness. The real togetherness, if it existed, was the sense among politicians and people in 1945 that when Hitler was defeated there had to be fundamental changes in the way the UK and society were organised and the way it treated people. In this new world there was no place for Winston Churchill who was against it anyway. Our current PM’s hero is Winston Churchill. The talk is that he wants to loosen the lockdown, get the economy going again, and that he will announce this on Sunday- backed up by the flag waving Tory press. Many feel that this is too soon. If Johnson sees this as his Churchill moment he may find that a resulting second wave of Covid infections becomes the equivalent of the V2 flying rockets that destroyed neighbourhoods in London 1944 and 1945.

The V.E. Day celebrations also add to the idea of British exceptionalism, that ‘we’ won the war. Yes, the Battle of Britain was a significant moment, Hitler’s plan to invade Britain postponed, but it was his decision to invade the Soviet Union that the war hinges on militarily. The Russian people fought street by street, house by house, cellar by cellar. Russian women served at the fontline. They lost 20 million people as a result. The Red Army, the defence of Stalingrad, the horrors of the Eastern Front and the advance towards Berlin turned the tide of the war. In the west the D- Day landings started to squeeze the Nazis out of France. U.S. soldiers make up two thirds of the 10, 000 casualties from the landings. None of this is adequately represented by the Spitfires, sandwiches and bunting portrayal of V.E. Day.

The newspapers and politicians who want us to celebrate this parochial, one eyed view of the past are the same ones who want to take us out of Europe, who want us to prioritise business over human lives by lifting the lockdown and who want to turn back the clock to a land that never existed. Jon Savage tweeted a comment earlier this week and it’s something that I’ve felt for some time. Jon’s Tweet reads-

‘Have suddenly focussed on the fact that the usual May Day holiday on Monday has been moved by this shower of shit government to next Friday for VE Day: this country has been totally infantilised. GET OVER THE FUCKING SECOND WORLD WAR’

And who can disagree?
Actually loads of people would disagree I’m sure.

Anyway, that’s my take. I’ll inevitably end up feeling like the V.E. Day Grinch when the genuine sense of community down our road that has been fostered during lockdown becomes a socially distanced street party later on today, people drinking and waving flags in their front gardens and there’s some communal Vera Lynn and Churchill broadcasts.

Here are some London Irish trad- folk punks singing a song in 1988 about the serious business of public holidays in Almeria.



Philip Chevron

Philip Chevron of The Pogues died yesterday aged 56. He’d been diagnosed with cancer of the head and neck back in 2007 and in 2012 was given the all clear. The tumour came back and took his life yesterday morning. Philip’s best loved song is the truly great Thousands Are Sailing, which I’ve posted before. This song- Haunted- was from the soundtrack of Alex Cox’s Sid And Nancy film, sung by Cait O’Riordan, and deserves to be more widely known. RIP Philip Chevron.


Breaking Rocks In The TV Studio

I found this somewhat unrehearsed but very endearing version of The Pogues with Joe doing I Fought The Law live on Irish TV back in 1987. Pogues guitarist Phil Chevron has recently been diagnosed with inoperable cancer of the head and neck- best wishes to him and his family. While I’m here, this is for SH and JG as well.

Breton Folk

On the campsite in Bretagne (sorry if you’re getting bored of ‘what I did on my holidays’) I saw two bands play. Just before they stuck the Olympics closing ceremony up on a big screen in the sportsbarn a Breton band played on the basketball court. Breton culture is very celtic so this threepiece had mandolins, tin whistles and a one horned bagpipe thing as well as guitars. Second song in I started singing along to something I recognised (they sang in French, or Breton more likely). After the first chorus I realised it was a cover of The Pogues’ Streams Of Whiskey, which they followed with Sally MacLennan (sung in English, with a French accent). Later on they did A Pair Of Brown Eyes and a rather affecting version of Thousands Are Sailing. Then we all decamped to the sportsbarn for the closing ceremony. As the Kronenbourg kicked in and the scooters charged across the Olympic stadium to the sound of Pinball Wizzard, and people cheered images of Jessica Ennis and Mo Farrah, it all felt very peculiar and for the first time, almost ever, I felt a pang of being patriotic (and not in a following the England football team way but a newer, modern British, multicultural, left-of-centre kind of way. Let’s see how long this lasts).

Thousands Are Sailing

!No Pasaran!

I started May by wittering on about a Spanish Civil War themed mix tape and which songs might go onto it. Thanks to everyone who made suggestions about other songs- Drew, Davy H, Helen and Suggestedformaturereaders. Thus, I can start June with a better, more expansive Spanish Civil War mixtape.

Durutti Column- Sketch For Summer
Manic Street Preachers- If You Tolerate This Then Your Children Will Be Next
The Clash- Spanish Bombs
The Pogues- Lorca’s Noveno
Billy Bragg- Jarama Valley (available here from The International Brigades website)
Leonard Cohen- Take This Waltz (based on Lorca’s words)
O’Luge and Kornertrone Allstars- Spanish Bombs (cover of The Clash song)
Christy Moore- Viva La Quinta Brigada
The Stone Roses- Guernica
Maxine Peake and Urban Roots- speech by Dolores Ibarruri (aka La Pasionaria, from the Billy Bragg cd linked above)

Can we make a case for Jonathan Richman’s Pablo Picasso on the grounds that Picasso painted Guernica? Reckon so.

Viva La Quinta Brigada

The photo of the militiawoman in heels with a pistol was taken by Gerda Taro, Robert Capo’s partner. Between them they covered the war and helped invent photo journalism. Gerda was killed during the war, run over by a tank accidentally. Stunning picture isn’t?

They Shall Not Pass

I was thinking, following Sunday’s post, about whether I could put together a Spanish Civil War themed mixtape. Stick with me, these are the things that sometimes occupy my mind when driving. I’ve got this far-

1. Durutti Column- Sketch For Summer (it could be any Durutti track really, but this one’s my favourite unless anyone can think of a more appropriate one. Durutti was an anarchist-syndicalist leader during the war, as I’m sure you knew)
2. Manic Street Preachers- If You Tolerate This Then Your Children Will Be Next (see Sunday’s post)
3. The Clash- Spanish Bombs (obviously)
4. The Pogues- Lorca’s Noveno (posted here a long while back, the song tells of the murder of poet Federico Garcia Lorca by the Francoist Falange)

And that’s it. A fairly short mixtape unless anyone’s got any other suggestions.
I wondered about ABBA’s Fernando but I’m not convinced it’s about Spain.

This could go on actually if we don’t have a rule about the same song featuring in different versions- a dub cover of The Clash’s Spanish Bombs by O’ Luge and Kornerstrone Allstars from a dub tribute album to The Clash called Shatter The Hotel (a line from Spanish Bombs).

Spanish Bombs

Afro-Cuban Bebop

Some nice Afro-Cuban Bebop from Joe Strummer, a short track (only a minute and a half long) recorded with The Pogues (moonlighting as The Astro-Physicians), B-side to the wilderness years highlight Burning Lights. Just to check Box.net’s working for me as much as anything.

Afro Cuban Bebop

In The Drunk Tank

It’s become a cliche but the only Christmas song that’s out in the popular consciousness, is actually good and can be listened to on repeat is The Pogues number 2 single Fairytale Of New York. It’s beautiful, a mixture of rawness and romance. The version posted here is an earlier one than the released A-side, an accordian intro, different lyrics and arrangement and Cait O’Riordan in the Kirsty MacColl role. Whatever you’re doing tonight and tomorrow, have a good one. Happy Christmas!

Fairytale Of New York (version)

Where We Once Watched The Robots Landing

Almost two decades ago a friend of mine came up from London to visit, when I rented a room in a house not far from where I live now. My friend A.N. was about to go to India, and we went out got drunk and ended up back at the house listening to music, eventually sticking The Pogues on, and talking drunken rubbish, praising the lyrics of Shane McGowan for being both a realist and a romantic, and being able to paint pictures with words and all that kind of drunk music bloke stuff. This song was the one for me at the time- brilliant musical backing and Shane’s lines about ‘whiskey on Sunday and tears on our cheeks’ and how it’s ‘stupid to laugh and useless to bawl about a rusty tin can and an old hurley ball’. What we couldn’t understand though was why in the final two lines Shane suddenly lurched into science fiction B Movie territory- ‘where we once watched the robots landing, and the broad, majestic Shannon’. Made no sense at all. Quite liked the image of robots crawling out of the river Shannon, but didn’t fit with the rest of song. We got drunker and moved onto other topics. Blah blah blah.

A few weeks later I got a postcard from A.N. at the Taj Mahal describing sights seen and places been, and right at the bottom of the postcard in tiny handwriting- ‘P.S. It’s row-boats, not robots.’

14 The Broad Majestic Shannon.wma

Lorca’s Corpse Just Walked Away

I had a ‘when did I put this on my mp3 player?’ moment in the car this morning-The Pogues’ mournful, stirring and elegant (not a word usually associated with the Pogues) tribute to Federico Garcia Lorca. Starting with a military drum beat and building slowly, while Shane sings about Lorca’s murder at the hands of Genral Franco’s falangists during the Spanish Civil War. Lorca was an internationally acclaimed poet and playwright, outspoken critic of Franco and fascism, and a leading light of the Spanish Generation of ’27. Franco’s men took him at some point in August 1936 from a friend’s house and along with three others shot him at Fuente Grande on the road betweenViznar and Alfacar. His body was buried somewhere in the vacinity, and despite recent attempts has not been found.

In Shane’s hands the lyric is full of drama and symbolism, and some insensitivity (‘the faggot poet they left til last, blew his brains out with a pistol up his arse’) but there’s no doubt where Shane’s sympathies lie, and at the end when the killers come to mutilate the dead and terrorise the town, Lorca’s corpse gets up and walks away. History lesson over- Lorca’s Novena is from The Pogues’ Hell’s Ditch album, produced by Joe Strummer.

The Pogues – Lorcas Novena.mp3