Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Davy Jones Takes His Last Train ...

Along with The Banana Splits and various old black and white US TV series like Flash Gordon Saturday mornings when I was a kid were about The Monkees.

They were funny, got involved in all sorts of japes (yes, we had japes back then) and had great songs too.

Originally conceived as a US TV programme about a pop group, riding on the wave of Beatlemania, they started having massive hits before the show had even aired and became one of the most successful pop acts of the late sixties.

A couple of years ago my family got me The Definitive Monkees CD for my birthday and it has been a favourite car CD ever since.  (There aren't many that we all like!)

Every time I listen to them it makes me feel happy.

I was therefore saddened to hear that Davy Jones* has passed away.

This was their first single and a US number one:

This is one of my favourite Monkees tracks:

And this is one of their early classics, written by Neil Diamond, whose own take on it is also very good, and later covered by Vic Reeves:

Serious fans would point out that these were all tracks written for them as part of the TV series on which they didn't play.  They went on to write and record in their own right and were a pretty talented bunch.

*David Bowie changed his name from Jones because of this.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Freddie Mercury

Queen have been my favourite band since I first started listening to rock and pop music and Freddie Mercury is simply the best rock front man of all time.

Queen's Greatest Hits was one of the first five albums I bought (in 1983, as you ask), and I played it daily for months, staggered by the brilliance of the songs.

The reaction to Queen's performance at Live Aid, in front of an audience who had bought tickets for the event, not for them, demonstrated Freddie's outstanding ability to work a live crowd.

And their performance at Newcastle St. James Park, Newcastle, on the Magic Tour, remains the best gig I have ever been lucky enough to witness.

20 years ago today I remember reading in The Observer that Freddie had said publicly that he had AIDS.  In those pre-internet days, days, rumours traveled more slowly.  and it wasn't until listening to the radio the following morning that I heard that he had died.  I remember being incredibly upset by the news.  Freddie wasn't just liked by his fans, he was adored.

For much of their career Queen were not liked by the critics.  Perhaps this was because they weren't easily categorised, or because the members of the band all liked their privacy.  20 years later they are more popular than ever, with several of their songs having become worldwide anthems.

Just as a reminder of how good they were, here are three favourites of mine:

First that classic Live Aid performance:

Secondly a great video and the song you're most likely to hear me sing at a Karaoke.  It includes the only guitar solo I ever learned properly:

And finally the last video Freddie filmed, looking visibly ill, and which still brings a tear to my eye:

By this point Freddie was very frail, and the video was produced in black and white to help hide how unwell he was.  Despite his illness Freddie was determined to get down as many vocals as he could manage while he still could.  He recorded most of the vocals for what would end up being the Made In Heaven album before he died, often having to rest between takes and in great pain in the studio.

The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert,  held six months after Freddie's death, highlighted for me just what a fantastic vocalist he was.  The line up of vocalists was pretty impressive that day, including George Michael, Annie Lennox, Elton John, Roger Daltrey and Axl Rose.  But between them they couldn't manage the range and power of Freddie Mercury.

My thoughts are with his family and friends today.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

The Government's extremely generous public sector pensions offer in full

The Government has today set out its very generous revised public sector pensions offer.
The long term savings from this scheme will come from the switch from a final salary to an average salary approach - hitting the highest earners - and from workers working for as many years as those in the private sector and most (but not the low paid) paying slightly higher contributions.

The Government is also protecting those who are near to retirement.

This proposed scheme is far, far more genrous than the vast majority of private sector workers have access to.

A quick comparison:

I contribute 10% of my gross income and on current projections (which are less ecure than a government pension scheme) expect this to provide a pension at the equivalent of about 23% of my career average salary.

In comparison a teacher on a similar career average income will contribute 9.6% of their income and end up receiving a pension of about 63% of that salary.

If any public sector employee thinks they are getting a raw deal from the Government I am more than happy to swap pension arrangements with them.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Steve Jobs RIP - Inspiring 2005 speech

I'm not an Apple fanboy as many seem to be, but I certainly recognise that Steve Jobs' vision has had a major impact on how we live our lives today.

I've never owned a Mac, and don't yet have an iPad, but I do make good use of my iPod which was given to me as a leaving present by my colleagues when I left the Campaigns Dept. a few years ago.

It's clear from reading the obituaries that Steve Jobs wasn't perfect, and that he was very aware of this, but his drive and innovation deserve recognition.

This was his 2005 Stanford University Comemncement Address.  I think it is quite inspirational, particularly his willingness to learn from his experience and his resilience.

Hat tip: DailyKos

Thursday, September 22, 2011

My conference blogs wordle

This is what wordle makes of my conference blog posts:

Wordle: Neil's Conference Blogs

Nothing unusual there then.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

#ldconf Monday (2): In which I am inspired by those I was asked to inspire

The most enjoyable part of Monday for me was away from the conference itself.

An old friend and colleague, Simon Foster, is now a Politics Lecturer at Birmingham Metropolitan College, and he had asked me to go and speak to his A2 Politics group about Liberalism.

This term the group are learning about the main political ideologies, so the arrival of the Liberal Democrat conference in the city has enabled many of his students to get some hands on experience of a political party.

Not being in any way academic myself, I was a little unsure of where to start.  I ended up deciding to talk about how I had become involved in politics (25 years ago I would have been sitting in my A Level Politics class!), how I worked out I was a Liberal, what Liberalism means to me and how that links with some of the issues the Liberal Democrats have been discussing this week.

Simon gave me a lift over to the College and blimey it's impressive.  I took my A Levels at the then Sir William Turners Sixth Form College in Redcar which had about 160 students in each f its two years.  It was tiny and was recently closed and demolished after merging with the bigger local FE College.

Birmingham Met is on an entirely different scale. The Matthew Boulton campus (which used to be a college in its own right) seemed to be as big as a small university.

By coincidence the College were also about to receive a visit from (Baroness) Margaret Sharp, Lib Dem peer and education policy expert, which did mean that coffee and buns had been laid on.  I got to talk with a diverse group of youngsters who were waiting for her about the courses they were doing and their aspirations for the future.

I then got taken up to Simon's classroom and watched the first part of the lesson which was about the main principles of Liberalism, a nice lead in to what I had in mind to say.

It was immediately clear that Simon's students were a bright bunch, as well as a real mix, and they were very engaged in the discussion.  It also struck me that whatever some people might say about exam standards they group were working at a higher level than I remember from my A Level course 25 years ago.

I then got up and did my bit.  I talked about how I had first got interested in politics when I did my A Levels and that the first politician I went to hear speak was Shirley Williams, then MP.  This was obviously the moment when Baroness Sharp was going to turn up on her tour of the College which she then did.  The consequence of this was that she had to sit an listen to me explaining Liberal ideology for ten minutes, which is a bit of a role reversal!

She and her entourage left, and I went on to link Liberal theory with some of the issues we have been dealing with as a party:  relating the ID Cards issue back to Mill, the pupil premium to positive liberty etc.

Most of the session was then left for discussion and it was, for me, a joy to take part in.  The standard of debate was high, and we tackled some difficult issues.  A question was raised about the limits of free speech. I posed the example of the insulting cartoon of The Prophet Muhammed which were published in Denmark in 2005 and how it related to Mill's harm principle.

We also discussed Lib Dem education policy (tuition fees and EMAs were both high on their minds) and how different people have come to different conclusions about spending priorities and how that might relate back to Liberal principles.

Most of Simon's students were already applying for University but I was keen to end the session by encouraging them on that path.  I talked a little about my personal experience, coming from a background where University wasn't the common option, and what a life-enhancing experience University had been for me.  I'm glad to say that they all seemed to be keen on applying and several chatted about where they were hoping to go and what they hoped to do.

I cannot express how impressed I was with the level of debate and the eloquence of the students and felt quite inspired by the whole experience.  They were great kids and I hope they go on to fulfil their ambitions.

#ldconf Monday: In which the veterans demonstrated their resilience

Why Paddy, Lynne, Vince and Tim are so resilient

Those of us who got involved in the party around the time of merger will have had a lot of sympathy with Paddy's recollection of the period we registered as an asterix in the opinion polls.

I joined the Liberal Party in 1987 and became active as the parties were merging and remember keeping track of opinion polls in which we bumped along at 4% or so, competing with the continuing SDP and the Greens.  As Paddy pointed out there was one month when the pollsters couldn't find even enough supporters for us to get a score at all.

I remember several NUS conferences in the few years following where a small Lib Dem grouping which included Tim Farron, Jeremy Browne and several other now veteran party campaigners when the national party was, frankly, seen as a joke.  I also remember organising a couple of visits by Paddy to Leicester as part of the party's strategy to get anyone to notice that he and the party actually existed.

The first set of elections I was heavily involved with was the 1989 County Council elections in Leicester.  Although we gained the East Knighton County Council seat (Bob Pritchard) and one of the City Council seats in a by-election (Arnie Gibbons), the results across the country were pretty dire.

We regained some of our credibility by holding our own in several rounds of local elections and then by avoiding a complete disaster in the 1992 General Election. Not long afterwards I remember going to speak at a Haringey Lib Dems AGM, attended by Lynne Featherstone amongst others, at a point when the Lib Dems had not even one councillor in that borough.

We had a few by-election successes which got us taken a bit more seriously (for which my noble friend Chris Rennard deserves much of the credit) but it wasn't really until the 1997 General Election got going that we really found our feet.

And that explains why so many of our party's leaders and activists, much to the surprise of many in the media, are far from depsondent.

Those of us who slogged through that tough ten years from after the '87 election through to our breakthrough in '97 don't see a temporary dip in the polls 18 months into Government as something to be gloomy about. 

If anything it is encouraging that the polls seem to be showing a slight upturn already given the economic situation and the tough decisions that have had to be taken.

Our activists are a pretty resilient bunch, and the response to the difficult year we've just had will be to redouble our campaigning efforts and re-engage with the communities we seek to represent. We are acheiving a lot, and by the next general election we will, as always, come out fighting.