Sunday, 29 January 2017

20.17 Blog #5: Their Normal is our Nightmare

“Man throws brick in Liverpool, narrowly misses Trump by 4500 miles.”

I must say this daft Facebook comment I noticed made me chuckle, because it reveals a cynical truth.  So far the anti-Trump demonstrations in the UK have been a gesture in solidarity with the people of America, and the upcoming ones will be a gesture for those originating in the 7 banned countries and their families.  No doubt as Trumps policies begin to elongate, slither and entangle like snakes across the globe, these protests will be a different shoe, crushing their writing hissing venomer.

 The cynical activist inside me will rear its snotty head and screech internally how a demonstration of even a few hundred will ever affect anything so catastrophically huge as this worldwide crackdown on movement?

The answer, I think, it challenging normalisation.  For years, the paranoia about immigration, and this centralised fear around Muslims in their entirely as a threat, has dominated the conversation.  The newspapers vomiting lies and lies about Muslims coming to sow terror and destruction, when really our own attitudes, laws and bombs have reaped terror and destruction.  We now exist in a place where extremist ideas about deportation, border lock-down and even ethnic purging are now considered such voidable political positions the world gasps in horror when an out-and-out Nazi is punched in the face.

So the point of these demos is, for me, a case of saying to the people walking past, then people shopping, dipping into pubs, reading the papers or listening to the radio:  The way the world is at the moment is not normal.

The policies of May and Trump are not normal.  It is not normal to think of immigrants as cockroaches or targets or threats or statistics or even cheap labour.  It is not normal to ban someone from entering a country entirely based on their religion.  It is not normal for our elected representatives to leave this unchallenged in the name of some kind of absorb polite discourse.

So what’s next?  OK, from an activist perspective I leave that discussion for more dedicated and tactic discussions, probably not online where ‘security’ can read my online blog. 
On an individual level, we must constantly remind our family, friends and colleagues this hatred and policies are not normal.

From an artist perspective, we must constantly remind our audiences that this hatred and these policies are not normal.  Open mics, poetry readings, workshops, gigs, events, slams.  Even if you can’t write about the issue, if you have anything that’s about love, or unity, then introduce it proudly as about hope and unity.

And that way, whenever someone agrees with a Trump/May policy, whenever some spouts this hatred, discrimination, fear tinged with the venom of the Great American Snake, it can be challenged as not normal.

In inches, they try and shift the world in what is normal.  Capitalism is normal, racism is normal.  One day, Trump might be normal.  I know it sounds difficult to believe, with his cartoonish persona like the villain of a show who uses his money to zap the heroes with laser beams.  But it’s true, already the argument is shifting to how his attitude is ‘reasonable’.

The world is not normal, and the more we shrug it off and go about our lives the more we slip into another world.  A world not unlike 1984 or Brave New World.  Which are, and will remain, non-fiction.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

20.17 Blog #4: Everybody wants to be the punk

Everybody wants to be the punk

What the last year has taught me in both the UK and America, is the right-wing like being the underdog.  Perhaps, once, before my time, the right-wing sold their image as being the powerful ones destined the rule because they understood power.  The God-given masters (Kings & Queens) and then the Rich (Land-Owners), and then the Elite (the MPs).  Power is handed to the powerful, and so the world spins.

But lately, it seems the right-wing have been playing a different game.  Firstly, UKIP, EDL and Britain First like to swing along the spectrum of oppressed whites.  From the ‘common sense’ arguments about migrants taking jobs and clogging housing, education and health services to the overt ‘white genocide’ irrationality.  Apparently, the white populace, who dominate in education, parliament and business, are under threat.  Never mind that the NHS is propped up by immigrant workers, or that non-white people are twice as likely to be unemployed (and of course, stopped & searched, arrested and the victims of hate crime).

The narrative being sold about the Vote Leave camp was a desire to escape the ‘oppression’ of the EU, with its non-sovereignty, laws and regulations.  I’m not going to spend ages unpacking this, but suffice to say suddenly Britain was depicted as the poor small nation fighting for its freedom (something we’ve not been entirely supportive of in the past:  See History).

Same goes for Men’s Rights Activists.  When Piers Morgan Tweeted the need for a Men’s March against the ‘global emasculation’ of his gender against ’rabid feminists’.   This positions feminists (and feminism as a concept) as not just something to be opposed, but some kind of power structure which is systemically oppressing men (as opposed to male power) is worrying how Morgan, a man with a net worth of £15 million, sees power.

And that’s what punk has always been.  Challenging power as the oppressed, or the outsider.   LBGTQ+, women and non-white people writing angry punk songs about the system that oppresses them.  And then the Joe Strummers and Henry Rollins’, the outsiders sneering outside from society, screaming the cracks in the walls.

And yet, here we have Donald Trump positioning himself as the outsider, stating in his inauguration speech:  “we are not merely transferring power from one administration to another or from one party to another, but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the people.”  He criticises the establishment, he’s going to speak of us (presumably after he torches his gold-lined apartment).  Same goes for Farage, who has managed to present himself as an ordinary bloke down the pub (even Cameron called out this fallacy of a career politician ex-banker pretending to be anti-career politicians).  Britain First’s catchphrase is “Taking our country back!” though not the same as taking it back from, y’know, the people in power, but from the immigrant on less than minimum wage with no rights in the workplace being spat upon by the media.

Even Jonathan Pie got involved, or rather Tom Walker acting through his news reporter character, with his various videos decrying the left for being too politically correct, because apparently challenging sexism and racism, homophobia and transphobia upsets sexists and racists, homophobes and transphobes and rallies them to prop up sexist, racist, homophobic and transphobic leaders.  And, God forbid, those people the target of sexism, racism and homophobia should need safe spaces from this structure that wants them submissive, or not even exist.

So the right-wing like to be the underdog, they like to be the oppressed, they like to be the punk.  The rebel, the outsider, the fighter, the shouter.  Even Jacob Rees-Mogg, a character even Charles Dickins would find implausibly unrealistic, tried his silky hand at a protest.

So our narrative going into 2017 is that the right-wing are rising up against the oppression of liberalism, men are fighting for rights against women, whites are fighting the oppression of non-whites.  It’s doublethink, the ability to hold 2 contradictory facts in your head at the same time:  “White men rule my country (and life) but non-white people and women are to blame”

The people in power like to be the punks.

But we really know what punk means, don’t we?  It means addressing power, it means challenging power structures.  Not the imaginary structures of imagined PC brigades, but the structures that allow billionaires to create a cabinet of billionaires to make sure billionaires stay on top.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

20.17 Blog #3: Like, I heard you Like LikePages

This week, my Facebook LikePage hit over 900 Likes.  I made the Page I think around 2009-10 when I finished University, and I was doing so many different gigs I wanted to put everything into a concise place.  That’s why it’s called Henry Raby’s Punk Poetry rather than just ‘Henry Raby’.  I wanted people to like the poetry, not the person. 

But of course, a LikePage isn’t really the work, and people don’t look at the poem without the poet.  Barthes argues the Death of the Author, detaching the writer from his work.  I’ll probably examine this in details in another Blogpost, but in performance poetry, you do make yourself into the ‘celebrity’.  We talk about ‘bearing your soul’ but at the very least, write about what you know, what you love, hate, believe in and want to change.  Unapologetically?  It would help.  It’s not Henry’s Raby’s work, like the LikePages of deceased authors recycle their work (@Pinter_Quotes is ace), it’s Henry (hi) sharing Henry Raby’s work.

I have been thinking lately how you don’t get much sense of my personality, or even work, from what I share on my LikePage.  It’s mainly a mouthpiece to direct people to events, recordings or this blog.  The posts are usually “This is coming up” or “I did this”.

So what do I use this Facebook page for, with all 900 people?  Well, there’s the fallacy I reach that many, often Facebook tells me it’s been ‘seen’ by about 80 people.  And let’s be realistic, where do these 900 people from?  People who are my friends for one, and then people associated with the poetry scene.  The punk scene.  People I’ve connected with in theatre, touring in rural networks.  It’s a desperate bunch, so how do I advertise what I do to the wide spread?

The amount of traffic that moves through Facebook is essential for promotion.  Sometimes the traffic is a slow trundle, as people scroll through pages on a casual basis.  Other times, it’s a squashed marketplace as everyone vies for attention.  Just having a Page means keeping up with the traffic, being part of that bustling, or boring, connectivity.

I am increasingly finding Facebook more and more impersonal, and as much as it’s practical aspect is something a promoter comes to rely on, it’s only one form of ‘socialness’.  And whilst some artists, Scroobius Pip being a good example, have a great online presence and therefore strong relationship with his audience, fans and friends, I don’t really want to cultivate this presence.  I want to feed this into other aspects of life.  Admittedly, some of those are other corners of the impersonal internet (hello, this is one) but also make sure that the videos I upload are hints of the live performances, the blogs are about livness, the website is about live events and the promotion of events are central.

I’m not anti-social media, and I don’t think it’s an ‘issue’ that’s affecting millennial that we are glued to screens.  But I do think we need to be aware there is the possible of duel worlds, and let’s feed them into one another, let the social media be there to feed into live events, which then go towards feeding into online communities and hubs.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

20.17 Blog #2: Three Anti-Facist Songs

Like a child in a shop who constantly cries for the sweetie, UKIP have constantly and doggedly dragged immigration to the heart of the county’s political issues, smokescreening away from the efforts of the ConDems and subsequently Pure Tory governments to hammer down against the poor and minorities following their Etonian blueprint.   This has led to a rise in the far right, not just in militant forms like the EDL and Britain First, but also a worrying undercurrent of casual cursing towards ethnic minorities.  Whether that’s arguing with strangers in the pub or blocking fascist marches or more active in shutting down detention centres and systems.

I wrote this poem last year.  

Whether or not it only exists in my leftie echo-chamber, I don’t know, but I do want to write a more accessible piece for audiences in any context, in any open mic.  If you’re in the music scene, write yourself an anti-fascist song for the music open mics.  If you’re in the punk scene, think hard about whether your songs are generic posturing to dunk punx or actually have impact.

And, all the time, let’s remember the narrative of Nazis = Bad is mind-numbingly obvious.  The right wing are, for the most part, hiding their guise behind waxy respectability and seeding fear into our everyday perception of our neighbours.  It’s power structures, white privilege and class division we need to address in ourselves and how we prop up these systems.

So let’s cut to the chase, they gotta be opposed in some capacity.  As The Men They Couldn’t Hang sing, ♪by words, fists, stones or by the gun
So I thought I’d just blog 3 Anti-Fascist songs from 2016 to give us inspiration in 2017


I caught Atterkop years back at Boomtown Fair, and their new album charges along like a pounding train, but keeps the elements of ska and dub without crossing into overly hardcore territory and losing that bouncy energy.  It’s unapologetic in its delivery, and no song represents this moreso than Picket Fence which is an anthemic call-to-arms   There’s a lovely plinky opening riff which sets a tainted mood, followed by the warcry of ♫ Your days are numbered, we will defeat you, Anti-Facist through and through ♪.  It’s an album which won’t convert anyone to the cause (or even the genre) but somedays you just need to be shouty until your heart hurts.


KINKY’s album Sissy Mosh is full of queer rage (and swearing) but actually Legal Fucking Murder has something more unique in that it shows characters, places and stories as well as the raging hardcore and crushing bitterness within the screaming.  Rather than have everything blare at once, the song builds which puts emphasis on the characters in the song, and then hits home with the powerful chorus of ♫ they call it the border, I call it legal fucking murder ♫.  It's also essential to note the most powerful form of fascism comes in the guise of our own country's laws


SB6 have always been great at telling stories within their music, alongside the use of music to explore cultures and genre-fusions.  Here, a trad ska backing which wouldn’t be out of place a 2Tone DJ set, highlights the irony of racists who enjoy ska (and other Black music).  The story tells the story of Johnny who gets drawn into a world of racism and the right-wing, but singer Laila very bravely draws the focus, centres herself to be seen, and heard.  There sympathy for Johnny as he gets twisted by a hate-fuelled agenda, and that's one of the best ways that art can challenge fascism, by highlighting difference voices in our world but, inevitably, pointing towards hope   Well if you want to hate me, here I am 

These 3 songs are savagely unapologetic.  And as much as we need to be flexible to enter dialogue, discourse and convince people that racism is not something to embrace, but fight, we must also have conviction and unflinchingly challenge, agitate, offer solidarity, offer support and resist.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

20.17 Blog #1: Rogue 1-2017

Better reviewers than I have summarised 2016 and Rogue One.  My rating of 2016 has been poor from a personal level, Things Happened which knocked me down.  Like a mid-90s anarchist punk song, I [tried] to get back up again.  Everyone seems to agree that 2016 was a sad year for deaths, the [increased] rise of the far right and further instability for security.  They also tend to agree Rogue One was pretty great.

Let’s be right about this, Star Wars has always been a continuum.  It didn’t end in 1983, it continued with the various novels and comic books and the adventures I created with my hand-me-down action figures in my Granny’s front room.

I’m not keen on the narrative that Star Wars ‘came back’ in 1999 and it was crap, and then ‘came back’ in 2015 and it was ace.  Because, for all it’s flaws, Lucas was trying to expand the universe of Star Wars with the Phantom Menace, he tried to show us a different world to that of the sterile Empire.  He tried to introduce the Jedi council, not the disparate Jedis in hiding in deserts and swamps.  He tried to set up the dawn of a new character arc for Anakin Skywalker.  He obviously failed, because Phantom Menace is an incredibly flawed film, like a stuttering lightsabre trying it’s  best to vzzz and vuummm.

By contrast, 2015’s The Force Awakens is a riotous romp, but recycles a huge amount of materials it’s hard to differentiate the references from the tributes.  There are so many nods to the other 6 films it’s like a vigorous head shake.  But it’s forgivable because it’s fun, frantic and funny.  It’s everything Star Wars should be, heroes vs. baddies in SPACE.

So what is the worst Star Wars film?  Attack of The Clones of course, because even though Lucas failed to craft a decent film with The Phantom Menace, he had the chance to rescript, recast and pass the baton to another director, as he did for Empire Strikes Back.  As it stands, he did not and we are left with another outing of CGI nonsense and lacklustre plot.

Even though the previous instalment was rubbish, he didn’t learn his lesson.

That’s why The Force Awakens tried to play it safe with familiarity.  And though chronologically Rogue One comes before The Force Awakens in the Star Wars story, clearly the 2016 is a contextual ‘sequel’ to 2015 film and Gareth Edwards toned down the references and nods (though still there) to try and explore a new (old) world under the surface of smugglers, traitors, saboteurs, assassins and rebels and not the force-wielding samurai of the other films.

And that is why, if we consider 2017 a sequel to 2016, we must take the past and make it better.

Each year we inevitably say:  “Have a happy and peaceful 2017” and wish each other the best, but all years have negatives and positives, with the remnants of the old year, whether good or bad, still clinging to the hull.  Creating our own sequel is hard, we cannot erase the past, and we cannot erase the right-wing victories and rise of fascism that will bleed into this year.  But we also have the opportunity to rethink this 2017 as we always rethink a sequel.

Let’s make 2017 neither Attack of The Clones, nor even The Force Awakens.  Although not perfect, let’s make it the Rogue One of the 2010s.