What I’m Reading – Roy Foster – Vivid Faces

This is the first in a series of how many I eventually do.  Rather than writing a review I will ask people to tell me what they are reading and what they like about the book.  Kicking it off is Michael McCaughan telling me about Roy Foster’s Vivid Faces, the Revolutionary Generation in Ireland 1890 – 1923 Penguin Books


Is a really interesting account about some of the main and not so main people behind the Rising and subsequent insurrection and war of independence and civil war era.

Foster takes these characters and looks at not just what their cv’s were like, ie cultural nationalist or served in the British armay and then trained the irish volunteers. he looks at it from a generational perspective, almost as a generation who rejected their parents values, went out and were influenced by feminism, vegetarianism, the most remarkable things we don’t associate with that generation because we have it down to a narrow nationalist narrative.

I learned today that there were two vegetarian restaurants in Dublin at the time where a lot of them used to hang out in. It a cultural history through people’s stories that are not just tales of the great men who participated

el presidente

Book of the week – Kim Gordon, Girl In A Band


Kim Gordon

Girl in a band

Faber Press
Wrapped in what must be the most understated title ever we get Kim Gordons autobiography. Kim was the bass player in hugely influential guitar noise band Sonic Youth. For over 30 years the band forged new ground for guitar based music. Always evolving, forever moving.
In an interesting twist we get the last days of the band to begin with. Kim was married to Thurston Moore for 27 years, all that time playing together in Sonic Youth and when that marriage hit the rocks the band did too. When talking about their relationship it feels at times like I was a fly on the wall of a therapy session. This books publishing must have had a cathartic effect on Kim. Some home truths are exposed.
Once that’s out of the way we hear of her youth. Growing up in l.a. A year out in Hawaii and another in Hong Kong. Early holidays in Oregon.  I have vivid memories as a kid going to the cinema to see an old Peter lorrie movie. My memory of it is that it was called “the hand” but Kim reminds me in the book that it was “the beast with five fingers”. While I was hiding behind the seat in front of me at the cinema Kim was in fear that the chopped hand with a life of its own was under her bed waiting to pounce. I guess that film had a profound effect on both of us.
However Kim’s life after that was a life of beatnik, jazz, cool music and New Yorker magazines.
As autobiographies are tales of people’s life’s to date we hear the sadness of her fathers passing, her older brother’s mental illness, her breeding in art and tales of former lovers including the story of an on off relationship with Simpsons score composer Danny Elfman.
It was another Dan, Grantham who introduced punk rock to an open minded Kim Gordon and who stated that rock an roll was more important than art. Kim was more no wave with its vulnerabilities than punk rock with its attitude and aligned herself with that scene
Before putting this book in my hands Kim Gordon and sonic youth were, to me, all about New York. It’s the city I associate the band with. Of course, being the u.s everyone is transient so Kim ended up there but sees it now as a city changed. 35 years later its unrecognisable from the cheap, dangerous and eclectic land it was. It kind of sounds like Dublin. Major retailers and very few quirks. Capital is driving out innovators. “New York City today is a city on steroids.”
Much of the book is made up of short stories, snippets from time. Sonic youth collaborated with many interesting people and many of these are mentioned. Kurt Cobain, Raymond Pettibon, Spike Jonez, Chuck d, Henry Rollins and more. It’s a list of those whose influence has helped shaped alternative culture in the U.S.  Of course Kim is a strong independent female voice swamped at times in this mans world. In her description of Karen carpenter where Kim States “she was an extreme version of what a lot of women suffer from – a lack of control over things other than their bodies, which turns the female body into a tool for power – good, bad, or ugly” it sums up a generation better than a legion of sociologists writing tomes
Now, with Sonic Youth finished, art plays a large part in her life but the art of music is never far away and although she exhibits in a New York Gallery I’ve no doubt there will always be music in her life.

Brian McMahon Brand New Retro

Brian McMahon Brand New Retro


Brian McMahon Brand New Retro
It is only natural that the 1916 Rising Centenary has seen the launch of, literally, countless books, exhibitions, tours, talks, radio and TV programmes. Yet, as Niall Hope’s review of From Pogrom to Civil War: Tom Glennon and the Belfast IRA indicates, what makes history interesting, important and relevant are the real life stories of everyday people. That was also what I learned from Michael McCaughan’s insight into R.F. Foster’s book, the Vivid Faces: the Revolutionary Generation in Ireland, about the Rising: it’s all about the people. It sounds simple enough, yet sometimes we only learn about the great people (generally men) and the great moments in history. It is as if they came from nowhere. This is clearly not the case.

It is clear that sometimes everyday people find themselves in extraordinary times, or at extraordinary moments. To me, history’s great task is to help us understand not just these moments and events but the people and their everyday lives.

That is why I think that Brian McMahon’s Brand New Retro is not only a brilliant book; it is also a really important one. It is a lavish tome: hardcover, 208 pages, meticulously researched and beautifully designed. It is very clearly a labour of love. It might even be a work of art. I should make it clear that I don’t know who the author is, just in case this fountain of praise makes it sounds like I do. He is behind the brilliant blog, Brand New Retro, which has consistently uncovered and displayed gems from Ireland’s rich, bizarre and unusual popular culture history. It is one of the three Irish culture internet sites that I have learned the most from. The other two are the equally brilliant, Come Here to Me site, and the equally meticulous, Irish Rock.org site. The book Come Here to Me: Dublin’s Other History (Fallon, McGrath and Murray) was my previous ‘book of the year’.

Back to Brand New Retro. Why do I rate it so highly? Here is one reason: I have spent so much time reading it and looking at it, and only now, for the first time, have I noticed that the stool on the front cover is glossy. Now that is care and attention. As I said, a true labour of love.

To understand the Irish music industry, we need to know the details of the small bands, the unknowns; most of information, naturally, comes from the big stars. That skews our perception of the industry and how it works. And here we have pages of material on the little bands, the might-have-beens, as well as the early features on the future stars. For example here we have pages from the incredibly important Black and White fanzine. U2 and the Blades were featured in 1979 and the magazine champions both of them. What is key about the early Irish music fanzines of the punk and new wave era is that they positioned local acts on the same playing field as international acts. The fanzines (Raw Power, Heat and Vox were the best designed) were not just writing about how much they loved local bands. They were also writing (and interviewing) the international acts they loved too.

This is really important. They were placing the local acts alongside the best new international acts. The fanzines were champions of a global music sub-culture: and very importantly for the local scene, they were stating that local Irish acts belonged to that global scene. This was revolutionary. The fanzines clearly argued that a new youth culture was challenging the accepted order, a youth culture with a Do-It-Yourself attitude, and Ireland was part of it.

And here, McMahon’s pages reproduced from Black and White invite the reader to consider how in same issue included articles about the Virgin Prunes, reviews of the Dead Kennedys, Fad Gadget, Cabaret Voltaire and bootlegs too. This was not the mainstream. The book’s section on Music and Showbiz, over 40 pages of images, really brings home how the local music scene developed. It also captures the creative spark of Irish youth, even in the 1960s when Ireland was very remote from the global music industry. It also captures some of the bizarre local offerings from the Irish music industry. Brand New Retro includes ads for Michael Landers: the ‘five-year-old singing sensation’ whose parents decided to send him touring the music venues of the land. It is worth noting that the politician, Oliver J. Flanagan, argued strenuously that it would be a violation of his rights to prohibit what many saw as exploitation of a child.

The local music industry was shaped by domestic and international factors and the book includes images of early Rory Gallaher, Phil Lynott, RTE Guides, Big Tom and the Mainliners, DC Nien, Joe Dolan, nightclubs, discos, early gay rights campaigns, as well as visits from Madness, The Specials, Depeche Mode and Rod Stewart. The latter remind us that the second wave of ska, originated in Britain, was a huge cultural force for Irish youth in the 1980s. Ireland was at the crossroads and this is well documented here.

The sections on Sport, Readers’ Lives, Lifestyle and Fashion also show Ireland at work and at play. Brand New Retro then is not just a series of snapshots, or a scrapbook of ‘how things were’. It is a vibrant document of a changing society. A society being challenged by forces from inside and outside. And as McMahon makes clear in this incredible collection, popular culture was often a means by which accepted practices were challenged. This was a world where Youghal Carpets were a source of national pride and Cork possessed a competitive cosmetics firm. Take a bow, Melinda.

It was a land where people were consumers, increasingly young people. As we see here, they were urged, cajoled and persuaded to buy Dingos jeans, Clarkes shoes, Glen Abbey tights, and Dulux paints. And they might even get Green Shield stamps with those purchases.
If the book is a shrine to love it is features a fair share of heartbreak. While some forces advance youth culture, there will also be others who will exploit it. The 1971 magazine advertisement for Hibernian Insurance, for example, features a crying, vulnerable young mini-skirted lady. The emotive headline reads: ‘Sue won’t be going to the dance tonight’. Why? Because heartless thieves have broken into her flat. She made the mistake of not having insurance and she now dabs her eyes with a hankie amongst the strewn remains of her possessions: including a box of Weetabix, coat hangers and boxes of matches. Presumably the Gardai were now looking for well-dressed, breakfast-hating, non-smoking criminals.
McMahon points out how the advice given in Ireland’s ‘problem pages’ generally consisted of: ‘discuss with a priest’ or send off for that special book from Easons (book shop)’ (p. 179). But this highlights how prominent the clergy were in Irish cultural life during this era. Yet, this was often in under-documented and surprising ways.
Some of the most startling images are the early 1970s covers of the magazine, An Gael Óg (the Young Irish). They evoked music, fun, freedom and even boys and girls having fun together. The poignant drawings, which must have been cool in their time, feature a young man playing records as well as a young woman playing guitar with concentration. Listen to, and playing, music was a source of pleasure. Another cover features a young man and woman singing, notably she is the guitar player. One even features what appears to be a joyously happy telephone conversation between a young man and young woman. Perhaps the most surprising image though, is of a young couple on a motor bike. The mountain scenery in the background looks familiarly Irish. Yet the smiling young woman holding onto a young man as the motorbike transports them together was not the traditional Irish establishment image of a rigid separation of the sexes. In one of the book’s many surprises I learned that the magazine was published by the Christian Brothers order whose vice-like grip on Irish education has been well documented, often chillingly, elsewhere.

The book perfectly encapsulates an ever-shifting cultural terrain. And it is clear that the consequences of these shifts were important. The gleeful images shine with important examples of struggles over consumerism and commercialism; uniformity and self-expression; as well as craft and identity.

A fun book. A beautiful book. An important book. Everyone who wants to understand Ireland’s history should get their hands on it.

Michael Mary Murphy


Book of the Week – From Pogrom To Civil War


From Pogrom to civil war
Tom glennon and the Belfast IRA
Kieran Glennon
Mercier History


Available here

Disclaimer, I know the author. We used to go to gigs together and we have many mutual friends. My only time seeing him this century though is at St pats football matches. For Kieran is a big fan. Me! I just like football. Having said that, what an interesting read.

This is a story starting and finishing with Kieran’s grandad Tom and his part in the Belfast pogrom and subsequently role in the Irish army

The dictionary tells me that a pogrom is an organized massacre of a particular ethnic group more commonly used in conflicts representing Jews however Belfast in 1920 saw a populace being undermined due to their religion. I had never heard of the Belfast boycott, organised during the first Dail (Parliament of ireland). Some catholic workers were expelled from shipyards and other workplaces so the Dail decided to boycott Belfast. Interesting in these days of talks about boycotting Israel that we have precedence from our very first parliament. Which, of course, people had set up themselves. The effectiveness of this boycott was the “equivalent of A summer shower threatening cave hill” and it petered out.

One captivating part of the book, like most that reflect a particular time, is the mention of torture and death with the sunglasses of history. Of course time can heal wounds but ambush and murder is spoken about in practical terms and the people doing the ambushing and killing get certain forgiveness nearly a century later.

The Pogrom ultimately finished with a truce but not before another Bloody Sunday where homes and lives were destroyed. At this stage Tom Glennon was incarcerated in the Curragh, a prisoner of war for all intents and purposes. However there was a musical backdrop to their day. While the prisoners were out stretching their legs the trumpeters of the Huzzar Regiment were practicing their musicianship, not just bugle calls but music for the prisoners to remember their time by. Many of you reading this will associate a moment with a particular song. For the prisoners their memory will be the music of the Huzzar regiment. From there it was like a scene from Escape to Victory as plans were hatched for freedom.

Although dealing with events around 1921 it mirrors much of what happened 50+ years later. Bin lids being smacked on street concrete to create a cacophony of noise as a warning for locals that the security forces were entering their communities. Talks of truce, talks abandoned. Extensive killing just as it seems like there may be a respite on the cards. And kidnapping. Removing people from their families to progree your political aims. We get a run down of historic events. As plans for a northern offensive were gathering pace we hear of the facts that for the second time in six years orders were given to commence an insurrection but the countermanding order didn’t quite make it through. And so, somewhat like the opposite of 1916, some soldiers knew there was a cancellation in their plans, however word didn’t make it to all quarters. Also the plans for ira divisions to support their northern comrades by fighting alongside them were also rescinded.

And then the real cat was thrown amongst the pigeons. A line was drawn across the country and the army split. Imagine playing on a football team throughout a cup tournament and getting through to the final days of the season when suddenly the team implodes. Management decisions are questioned and the effectiveness of the direction the team are going in is questioned. Some decree that if they stick together they can make the breakthrough for promotion. Others feel that they are doing well enough and promotion will come another season. The team splits into two and they fight each other rather not than taking on the league for that final push. Ireland’s recent history can be viewed like this. It can also be stated the team might never have got promotion and could have disintegrated. But a split happened which then left northern members exposed more so.

As for Toms tale. He escaped from prison and got £10 and a posting in Donegal. Soon after the Anglo Irish treaty was signed. Not known at the time but Ireland’s war of independence was soon to be Ireland’s civil war. Tom transferred to the newly established national army which found themselves ensconced in what was previously enemy barracks

Much of the book is taken from recollections by people and published stories of the day. These can cause confusion as different versions emerge. However the amount of research Kieran must have gone through is phenomenal. For each event is painstakingly researched and detailed. We are reminded of more facts like the first election in 1921 after our war of independence was done using the voting register for 1918, had it been updated would there have been any difference in the outcome? We can never know.

And what of the IRA soldiers who fought in what was to become Northern Ireland? After the partition of the country “being left short of train fare could serve as a suitable metaphor for the provisional governments treatment of the entire Northern IRA throughout the period following the signing of the treaty…the Belfast brigade..had finally stumbled to a wretched halt”

A feature of this book is how it takes the facts and makes them a stark reality. Consider this, a new state has been set up. The island is partitioned to different and at times violent opinions. The previous force for law and order was disbanded and a new one created for the partitioned part. This didn’t reach all areas and some people who were only recently fighting for a different cause alongside some of the new force they vehemently oppose. is tragedy highly likely or inevitable. We look back generally with an overarching view, Glennon recollects the stories

The civil war petered put and elections in 1923 showed that the majority of those who voted were pro treaty and therefore ready to accept the country as was then, for the short term at least. A tense peace followed.

The climax of the book tells of tom Glennon and how he left his history behind, barely speaking of his soldier days. We also get some analysis of IRA activities up north and the repercussions of these. But ultimately this is a tale of the grandad of a St Pats fan and his journey of knowledge gathering is described to great effect in the epilogue. Fascinating


Book of the week – Words Will Break Cement

Words will break cement
The passion of pussy riot
Masha Gessen
Granta Book


Ironically enough Masha Greens previous book to this was a look at the unlikely rise of Vladimir Putin and now in the ultimate irony she writes about a band taking on Russian Establishment.

For those with short term memory loss, Pussy Riot are a Russian punk band who decided to enter a Moscow cathedral and perform their punk prayer. Their performance was swift but the repercussions were vast. Hunted down by police 3 of the 5 were arrested and two sent to remote prison colonies. Their story got worldwide attention thanks in no doubt to social media.

Masha Green has decided it’s best we have some background to the people first.

Nadya is well educated, taught to appreciate rebellion and speak up for her beliefs from an early age. Nadya is the daughter of Andrei, from norilsk the worlds most northern large city. Nadya’s real name is Nadezda, Russian for hope. Nadya’s hope as a child was with her grandmother Vera, Russian for faith, as her birth parents couldn’t deal with being parents at the time. Her first foray into cultural terrorism was an art group called Voina, Russian for war. Voina organised flash art events. Events aimed at shaking an old and settled establishment. The people in Voina lived and debated together, commune like. The spirit brought differences and like all good radical groups a split was on the cards. Nadya then had a child.

Kat spent much of her childhood in medical institutions, away from her parents. She was an impeccable student with impeccable results, culminating in a masters in computer programming. She then got into photography and fell under Voinas wings. Their guerilla pranks continued. Other activists got to hear about their actions and looked for involvement. Feminist theory, Russian style developed and using music as an art for developed, Pussy Riot (or Pisya as it began), started. They were performance punks, playing guerilla gigs in open spaces basing their music on British skinhead bands and lyrics as in your face as possible. They picked a uniform image, day goo colours and balaclavas to cover their faces. In Ireland we have the rubber bandits using cut up plastic bags hiding their real identity, pussy riot were colourful guerilla artists.

Maria also came from a broken home and had an active life on the outskirts of Moscow’s activist circle. There was a lot of alcohol involved and being a mother helped focus things, however pranks were never far away,

For us living in Ireland and hearing the outcry amongst the protest movement when police stepped in and arrested people for sitting down in front of the Tanaistes Car it is hard to appreciate the difficulty in protest in countries like Russia. Being arrested is almost part of the protest itself and Pussy Riot never shirked from this.

“Death to the the Jails, Freedom to protest” they proclaimed, mostly in public open spaces. When the rest of the world was looking to occupy spaces and proclaiming to be the 99% Russian activists were working hard on trying to open up their world and the question of how to change the world or where to start began on Moscow’s streets. And when they sang in public, protesting at a system they viewed as repressive, they were in danger of being arrested. Every time. They knew it and still shouted.

As protests grew in Moscow and the establishment worked on breaking them pussy riot felt it inevitable to make an appearance in a church sending a statement to both the authorities and the Catholic Church. Poland were made, video cameras were prepared and they stormed the altar. But not for long.

The capture and hunt of the culprits seems more like a spy tale or espionage thriller, more suited to those endeavouring to overthrow the state by force of weapons rather than words. Finally pussy riot are caught and after being in hunger strike get put on trial for “committing an act of hooliganism, which is a rude disruption of the social order showing a clear disregard for society, committed for reasons of religious hatred toward a particular social group committed by a group of people as a result of conspiracy ”

In a supreme sense of irony during a trial of contradictions many world musicians came out in favour of this Russian punk band. People like Sting, paul mc cartney and U2 rallied on their behalf. The feeling was they just might make it through the trial bring found not guilty. On their final statements we three women all stood up proclaimed their innocence relating to the charges but still pressed home the point that the band are a political statement. Which certainly didn’t help set them free from a guilty verdict.

I’m not giving away any plot by letting you know the band were found guilty and given prison sentences. Words will break cement completed the take by talking about the bands incarceration post trial. It gives verbatim some of the transcripts and letters sent which, while painting the picture, can be a bit long winded in a 300 page book but it goes help paint that picture. If you were to draw out a picture of prison life it would be very much monochrome. Grey buildings cold and depressing under grey skies that never clear. Prison life is very much for punishment purposes. Rehabilitation doesn’t seem to be on the agenda. Like the Russian soldiers sent to the Siberian front Pusey riot were trying to highlight the awful conditions try were living under in prisons where “Collective punishment is employed: you complain about the lack of hot water and they turn it off altogether”

All in all a captivating story and a good enough read considering the author didn’t get a chance to talk to the party involved but had their complete permission to tell their story.


Book of the Week – GPO Garrison, Easter Week 1916


The GPO Garrison
Easter Week 1916
A Biographical dictionary
Jimmy wren

Geography publications
It is the centenary of the Easter rising this year. 100 years on from an historic event and we will continue to be plagued with books on the matter, and rightly so. Many will tell stories of what happened, some may even have my nana’s tale of how she was playing in Parnell street in Dublin City Centre as a 5 year old girl when a British soldier brought her in off the street for her own safety but not before looting a handful of sweets and placing them in her apron. Many will be factual accounts of what happened but Jimmy Wrens book has taken a different angle. The General Post Office is the symbolic point of the rising but it was here where the leaders read out the proclamation (a remarkable document) and here where the winning and losing was to be. Donnycarney native, and old neighbour of mine, Jummy Wren has decided to list all those who were in the gpo, all 572 of them. Not only that we get an illustration and a breakdown of all the people involved, in fairness to the author the rank and file equal coverage. Those executed soon after may, in some instances, get a few extra lines, not many though in this book of equals.

There are some some amazing facts hidden in the collective tales. O’Connell’s boys school taught 29 of the participants, the age profile (like any army) is so young, 28% of combatants were under 20, more kids gone off to war which has continued through the generations.  Liverpool provided some people and buenos aires was the furthest someone came to fight  for the cause  with many hailing from Dublin’s north side and of course many soldiers ended up in opposite sides a few short years later in our countries Civil War.

There are some fascinating insights into many of the 572 soldiers who participated in the GPO garrison with many of today’s politicians having ancestry involved. There’s the human story of people like Mary (may) Gahan, a 17 year old revolutionary who fought in the rising and subsequent Irish civil war, after fighting for the cause of what she believed to be Irish freedom May then emigrated to Australia and had 10 children before dying in 1988. There must have been some fascinating dinner parties around her house!

Or how about Antil Makapaltis, a merchant seaman originally from Finland who appeared at the GPO and offered his services until his ship was due to depart the following Thursday. Antil never made it for that trip and stayed for the week until the GPO was evacuated and he was then incarcerated.

Or Eamon (Ted) O’Kelly who lived through a hunger strike, a Black and Tans ambush and the Easter Rising only to be fatally wounded during the Second World War when the Germans bombed London during his time living there.

The historic element will be written about in many other times wren has written about the people. As it marks an event 100 years gone past all the participants have passed away, thankfully their stories haven’t and works like this are essential to keep it in public knowledge and discourse. It’s amazing how such a bloody and initially unpopular event has polarised our country  and the spotlight will shine until the summer months at least whilst those of all persuasions claim the heroes to themselves.

One striking aspect of the human side to this story is how people who ended up as enemies during the Civil War and then became citizens, with many leaving their revolutionary days behind as they participated in society, some politicians, many civil servants and business people. It’s a fact of life that things progress but Wren lists their future careers in a kind of “where are they know” dialect which is fascinating at times

Finally the 16 men who lost their lives are all listed, and subsequently the 6 who were executed to accompany the 69 who were injured over the week of fighting for the GPO garrison.

Great stuff



Book of the Week – The Road to Wigan Pier


The road to Wigan pier
George Orwell
Penguin Press

Nearly 80 years since it was written this book has been the introduction to a new chapter for me. I have decided to attempt 52 books in a year and where better to start than with a classic.

When the first paragraph of that classic ends with the line “In spite of his trying man has not yet succeeded in doing his dirt everywhere” I am enthused as this still rings true today. “Even in the filthy heart of civilisation you find fields where the grass is green instead of grey ; perhaps if you looked for them you might find streams with live fish in them instead of salmon tins ”
That sums up so many of us looking for a brighter future, not just for themselves but for all. A future where flowers blossom on bomb sites.

There is a sense of history reading a book based on a coal industry that lost its last pit to closure prior to Christmas. Of course our desire to burn fossil fuels has left the earth in a somewhat torturous state but that hasn’t been the reason the coal industry was defeated. There was a concerted effort put in place to break a group of organised workers. In our efforts to dumb these people down a new ideology blossomed. One where money became king and the hunt for it overcame all else.

This book is in many ways Orwell’s homage to the coal miners. Their horrific work conditions are explained in great detail, the necessity for coal in every facet of people’s life is highlighted but not only that the fact that we tend to ignore the means of production as we sit at home writing or reading. That is all the more obvious these days as we watch TV on screens that have been manufactured and transported half way across the world. Or as we type on devices built by factory workers in conditions similar to coal miners in the 30’s or, in the case of garment workers making our clothes, quite possibly worse.

Whilst it was written almost 80 years ago it speaks of an age that could be transferred into the 21st Century. The industrial world could be in China or Russia where manufacturing is still very much alive. It could relate to the previously mentioned garment industry in Bangladesh or Burma or India. From an Irish perspective The road to Wigan pier also speaks of poverty and a housing crisis which most definitely fits into today’s front pages alongside a dissection of unemployment rates that don’t fully give a picture of what’s going on due to the amount of underemployment. The working class didn’t turn revolutionary when things took a turn for the worse as they had electricity and access to newspapers which assisted them in keeping their tempers to make the best out of what they have, much like smart phones and Internet has done nowadays.

Orwell states simply that he had reduced everything to the “theory that the oppressed are always right and the oppressors are always wrong”. He recognised that this was mistaken but the roots of it remain especially when it came to class issues, things may have changed for many working class people on the past 80 years but difference still exist for many in society and your birthplace does still have a huge bearing on your life’s trajectory. However the reality for many is that there are two economic classes, the rich and the poor. Post economic crisis (well post for some in society) one part of discourse is trying to ensure everyone is getting enough to eat. Orwell says that socialism provided a way out. We are waiting to see if that is the case.

He also states that “under capitalism any invention which does not promise fairly immediate profits is neglected”, interesting and when you look at the recent closure of Clery’s department store you can see the truth in that statement. What Orwell would say abuut a shop that splits into two companies, one for trading and one for the property aspect would be very interesting. Especially when the property arm makes 6 million in profit and the trading arm loses 4 million. The companies are sold and a few hours later the trading arm is sold for £1 and shut down by close of business with all the staff made redundant and the state left making any payouts to them. Meanwhile the building sits idle waiting for the right time. All completely legal and admired in some quarters.

This has been our road to Wigan Pier and in an election year in Ireland it will be interesting to see where we go next. Will it be the time as Orwell Stated 8 decades ago that “it is desperately necessary for left-wingers of all complexions to drop their differences and hang together” when he was trying to get Socialism into mainstream language and away from doctrine. We live in interesting times


Verso Books end of year mayhem

Verso: The Year in Review
I received the following mail from Verso, now is your chance to read about the Village Against the World or how we can demand the Future.
You can still download the Verso 2015 Mixtape: a FREE ebook compilation of extracts from some of our best books this year! With contributions from Patrick Cockburn, John Berger, Juliet Jacques, Tariq Ali, Pablo Iglesias, and Teju Cole; covering the rise of Islamic State, post-capitalism, transgender politics, disaster capitalism, the Anthropocene, and lots more.

Plus, there’s still time to get our books at a brilliant discount, with 50% off ALL our books until the end of the year! See our Gift Guide for book suggestions. Don’t forget that we have FREE shipping (worldwide) and free bundled ebooks.  Also 90% of all e-books

[technically some 2016 news but] We are very excited to announce that we’ll be publishing Ta-Nehisi Coates’ memoir, The Beautiful Struggle in February!

The best (non-Verso) books of the year, picked by Verso staff in London and New York, featuring Elena Ferrante, Nawal El Saadawi, Ta-Nehisi Coates, James Meek, and more. We also have a round-up of the most-read pieces on the Verso Blog in 2015, from writers including Judith Butler, Alan Badou, Teju Cole, & Joanna Walsh. In our Verso End of Year Highlights we look back on our own great year of publishing.

Steven Gerrard – My Story

Steven Gerrard
My Story

Ask any parent what they would do for their kids and your stock answer will probably be whatever is needed. The true meaning of love is that you would step in the way of a travelling bullet and that is a starting point for your kids.

And so, with that mind, that is how Steven Gerrard’s new book ended in my collection. Footballers biographies don’t feature too large in number in my collection but they generally increase by one each Christmas. No, Im not a Liverpool fan and, as an Irishman, football for me is a game played by teams of 15 and you get a score when you kick the ball over the bar. So, soccer it is which is what Gerrard is now playing in the States.

Another salvo of what you would do for your children is read a 460 page book as it was bough for you as a present. At your first opportunity. And you know what, I enjoyed it. This story is Gerrard second book abut his life. 35 years old and two books. It is mostly/ made of of the 2013/14 season when Liverpool were challenging for the Premiership title (no this is not a spoiler, its kind of hard to avoid hearing about the English Premier League). The most startling piece for me is how many of the players are now with different clubs… Put that beside Gerrard who was with Liverpool since he was 8 years old. Many of the managers are different, how hard is it for footballers to express loyalty when really it is only the fans who seem to stay with the one club. Players move workplace like most of the worlds workforce and yet fans put so much faith in them.

If you like Liverpool, England or the idea of one player being with a football club for most of his/ life then this is worthwhile. If you believe in Justice fior the 96 people who tragically lost their lives at Hillsborough then, thankfully, this is worthwhile. If you believe that football players are actors in a soap opera then you wont get too much from this other than the fact that a player gets his agent to arrange holidays for them and they are shielded from so much of the real world.


Attilla The Stockbroker – Arguments Yard

Atilla the stockbroker
arguments yard
Cherry Red books

I’ve often said that auto biographies are strange beasts. Maybe it’s my country of origin and how we are known as a nation of begrudges. I am conscious of that when I see my fellow troubadours doing what can only be perceived as “well. ” I wish to support that success in the first instance. Do when lynched appear on TV I’m happy. Not beside their appearance vindicated them as a band and certainly not because their being there vindicated the show. Just because they genuinely seemed happy to do that and to participate.

Has this relevance for an autobiography? Yep? To write ones own story will involve some participation in that historic sport “blowing your own trumpet”. Generally speaking I’m not on the side of those who excel in this game as people’s achievements are recognition of their efforts.  However in a book that details your life both good and bad well then you have to proclaim the achievements.

For any person who has made poetry their living over 35 years with no assistance from arts council grants and from hanging around the punk rock works well then there will have to be achievements. But this book is more that that. Attila has always spoken up for those that are deemed voiceless, he has been to the forefront of street protests and political campaigns. This is a story of many of these campaigns. We hear of the miners strike, printers strike, war on Iraq., poll tax protests and more. They’re not victories or tales of achievements just stores of the day.

I remember all these fights as someone living across the Irish Sea and looking into the distance. Bands like the neurotics, some men they couldn’t hang, Blyth power and billy Bragg all get pride of place here and you can tell the pride of which Attila writes about. These bands are part of my soundtrack and I’m proud to have been at their gigs and written to some of them too

Datblygu and anhrefn fly the Welsh flag in the tale of activism and many failed protests. Anhrefn, who played a big part in our own story of the hope collective. I have often though of the letters that went between myself and Steve drewett from the Newtown neurotics about the possibility of themselves and Attila coming to ireland. Plenty of plans were hatched but my final letter from Steve spoke of how they just couldn’t afford the ferry fare. There would be no advance from us in ireland and that dream ended. Attila doesn’t write of that but tells us of sharing a roof with Steve and many gigs with the neurotics. He writes of his first trip to ireland but sadly it was not of our efforts.

I never knew Attila was the catalyst for TV smiths solo career but we are regaled with story. And there’s many others too, all expertly written in an easy going light way

In his 35 years of protest poetry atolls has always tried topic in some humour and that isn’t far away in the pages of this book. I couldn’t put it down for a couple of days and always looked forward with great anticipation for my next few spare minutes. My instant reaction on finishing it was to put these words together. It doesn’t matter what I say about arguments yard but it does matter that you try and get a copy