BAiT at The Golden Cross and John joins LiveJournal

BAiT played The Golden Cross last night in support of The Satin Dolls. We played our shorter, eight song set to quite a good reception from friends and strangers alike, despite the monitoring problems. I thought The Satin Dolls were pretty good – definitely a very lively band on stage, which is always good from the audience’s point-of-view. If anything, that’s where we (BAiT) are a little weak, because we’re so fixed on conveying the music as best and we can, and some of it is pretty tough stuff to play. Still, I suppose that this will improve over time. We have to really get back into the routine of playing live and then we can think more about the showmanship side of things.

All the entries to date were originally created manually on my website, but I’ve finally bitten the bullet, and, following some peer pressure from my friend Jack, I’ve decided to move the whole of my blog over to LiveJournal, to make posting new entries a little less hassle.

Capital Punishment

I watched Question Time on Thursday evening. For the benefit of any readers outside the UK, Question Time invites a studio audience to put questions to a panel comprising predominantly politicians, but also media figures, academics, and figures from various interest groups. On Thursday, the question of the application of the death sentence on Saddam Hussein arose, assuming that the outcome of his trial is that he is indeed found guilty.

Without exception, the members of the panel (in this case, three politicians and a spokeswoman for Amnesty International) stated that they thought that the death sentence should not be applied. This consensus left me not so much surprised as bewildered.

To summarise the panel’s main arguments, they thought that

a) As civilised societies, we in the West should be setting a good example, and doing all we can to dissuade Iraq from retaining the death sentence.
b) Executing Saddam would make him a martyr.

I will deal with the second point first, because the first merits special attention.

The martyr argument is a common one when we’re dealing with the use of lethal force or the death sentence against ideological or religious extremists. I am not convinced that it is a valid argument, in particular in the case where due legal process has been followed and a fair trial concludes that the appropriate sentence should be execution.

The trial of Nazi war criminals in Nuremberg in 1946 exposed some of the worst crimes ever committed against humanity. Of course, the defendants argued that the whole trial was unjust and that it was merely the victors of the war punishing the losers. That didn’t wash. The Allies took the stance that crimes against humanity were not to be swept under the carpet and that there would be no excuse of ‘just following orders’ or their victims being just ‘casualties of war’ – genocide was genocide. Most of the defendants were found guilty and most were hanged for their crimes following a fair and just trial. Were they martyred?

If you start to lessen the severity of a sentence out of fear of reprisals, then justice has not been served. I will admit that in this aspect I am troubled by the execution of many forgotten lower ranking German officers who were following orders out of self preservation (I am sure that insubordination in the Reichswehr was treated in the severest manner – probably summary execution), but a line had to be drawn and part of Germany’s denazification was a brutal but legally-based harsh justice towards anyone found guilty of crimes warranting the death sentence.

In the short term, the fanatical Werewolf Nazi resistance groups who continued to fight on after the end of WW2 may have considered their executed comrades as martyrs, but going soft on the guilty would have almost certainly prolonged the denazification process and made no difference whatsoever to their fanaticism. We should remember that the western allies were still perceived as the enemy for some time after the end of WW2 – in fact, probably up until the Berlin Airlift in 1949.

So the martyrdom argument is invalid to me. Those found guilty at Nuremberg were not martyrs – they had committed heinous crimes, been found guilty and punished appropriately.

Now, back to that first point, about civilised nations setting a good example by not imposing the death sentence.

It is estimated that over 50,000 people die in the world every day. Some of them in very nasty ways – many of them innocent civilians, including children and babies. Annual road deaths in the UK alone are in the thousands and we accept them as an inevitable consequence of our freedom to drive. We execute dangerous dogs for biting people, when in many cases they were provoked into doing so. Death is all around us, but we, in the West don’t like to confront it, and I believe that our inability to accept and confront death is in part behind our objection to the application of the death sentence. So, in the face of 50,000 deaths a day, we have people expending energy on defending a man who is without doubt one of the worst tyrants in recent history and who should have been deposed and prosecuted after the first Gulf War. I find that perverse. This is a man who is on film ordering people out of a room to be summarily executed with a smile on his face and yet intelligent people would defend him. Is this really, objectively speaking, progress? I feel patronised in the face of their standard spiel about the wrongs of the death sentence, and their implication that those who favour the death sentence are in some way backward or unintelligent.

The common belief is that revenge is a negative emotion, but this is just a point of view and NOT a universal truth. Historically and in other cultures, revenge is a key component in justice. An eye for an eye does not make the world blind – it exacts a fair and equal reprisal in the face of a wrongdoing. In the case of Saddam, we would be talking of an eye for thousands of eyes. Rest assured, I reserve the right to exact revenge on someone who harms me or any of my loved ones, regardless of the legal consequences. This is a natural human reaction and one which I would not wish to suppress in the face of such an affront. I would go so far as to say that suppression of such natural emotions is actually dangerous. I can’t begin to imagine what relatives of those murdered go through when the murderer of their loved one walks free after a few years in prison, whilst they struggle with the loss of their loved one for the rest of their lives. That can not be true justice.

I once saw an interview with a US prison official who had presided over the execution of many people. His own view was that the death sentence had one and only one quality – you know with certainty that (assuming you have executed the right person) the murderer will never kill again. Well, that’s a good enough reason for me, and I have reservations about the U.S. application of the death sentence. I would want to be sure that the right person was being executed and only on the basis of extremely strong scientific evidence, so that the evidence went beyond reasonable doubt.

But what if we did get the wrong person?

Well, there are those who believe that an innocent wrongly executed must ‘take it for the team’, on the basis that in all likelihood, we get the right person most of the time. I don’t subscribe to this view myself (as I say above, I would want to be 99.99% certain that the right person was executed), but I can understand it and there is a discussion that can be had on this basis, as follows:

Assuming that the number of convicted murderers who are released from prison and subsequently reoffend, i.e. kill again, is x, and the number of innocents wrongly convicted and executed is y, if x is greater than y, then there is a very strong objective argument for the death penalty. This becomes an even more compelling argument when we consider that murder victims may be children, but we would never execute a minor. Leaving emotion aside, you are simply dealing with numbers of innocents and it would be better to save the greater number of innocents in either case.

I am not a sadist. I do not revel in the thought of the death of a person. Far from it – I do not even enjoy television violence or the strange glorification by some of gangsters. I believe quite simply that murderers should be ‘put down’, to use a vetinary euphemism.

I have seen The Green Mile – it did not provoke the reaction in me it provoked in many. I saw a very bad apple among the prison guards in that film, but had no real problem with the system itself, other than the method of execution used, which I would personally oppose.

I would concede that even evil people deserve dignity in death, but not the mercy that they themselves failed to show an innocent. In brutal terms, it’s just one of 50,000 lives and saving that one life isn’t really worth the effort expended by many well-intentioned people.

Spock’s Beard gig

Went with Chris (from my band, BAiT) to see Spock’s Beard yesterday evening at The Mean Fiddler in London. Spock’s beard are a third generation Progressive Rock band from the USA, and have something in common with another great Progressive Rock band, Genesis, in that their original lead singer has left and their drummer has stepped up to fill the role of lead vocalist, although in Spock’s Beard’s case, the original singer (Neal Morse) did it because God told him to (whince).

Anyway, back to the gig. I have been a fan of Spock’s Beard for around five years, since an old university friend of mine (and fellow Prog fan) told me to give them a listen, and this was the first time I had seen them live. I can honestly say that they are without doubt one of the finest, most entertaining acts I have ever seen live, and I have seen some of the ‘classic’ rock acts.

They have been doing a swift European tour and the four of them (plus their excellent tour drummer) put on a blinder of a show, featuring crazy keyboard antics, courtesy of Rio Okumoto. Last night happened to be the last night of the tour and featured, as a special guest, the drummer from Prog Metal outfit Dream Theater, Mike Portnoy. The only slight disappointment for me was that their bass player, Dave Meros, was not playing his beautiful Rickenbacker 4001 bass, because it’s in for repairs, although I (grudgingly) have to admit that he did get pretty close to the Ric sound using a Fender – not quite there, but close enough not to ruin it for me.

The setlist featured songs from their most recent album, Octane, which I’m really starting to like a lot now, and some older material from the days when they were fronted by original vocalist, Neal Morse. Nick D’Virgilio has certainly grown into his role as lead vocalist since his debut in the role on the band’s previous album, and I’m sure things can only get better, so long as they remain true to their style and don’t ‘sell out’ like Genesis did or like Mike Oldfield seems to have done.

Speaking of Mr Oldfield… Following my recent tirade, I found the interview to which I eluded and he says (and I quote), “…computers are the cancer of popular music and destroy it. Little kids put the radio on and think they’re hearing real people. In reality, a computer programmer is manipulating digital samples of other people. This development is terrible and I’ve firmly decided to fight this trend with all my energy.” Tja, right Mike – that’ll be why your last few albums have been principally performed by them. Tsk!

Mike Oldfield’s new album, Light And Shade

I’ve submitted the following review of Mike Oldfield’s new album, Light And Shade, to Amazon.

It’s rather depressing for me as a fan of most of Mike’s work to hear his output in recent times. As a musician myself, I can appreciate the effort that goes into producing an album of real music, and the little effort that goes into producing the likes of this album, composed on and performed for the main part by computer. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problems with computer-generated music per se, but I don’t get where Mike is coming from any more. We are talking about a guy who camped out in protest at the state of modern, computer-generated music (search the WWW to read the contemporary interviews), only to move Ibiza himself and absorb himself in the dance/trance fraternity a few years ago.

Maybe he wants to shun his old image and embrace a more youthful market, or maybe it’s just too damn easy for him to rely so heavily on computers now, sell an album which most of his existing fanbase (including me) will buy (and give a five-star rating, just because it is Mike), take the cash and go ride his Hayabusa; or maybe he’s become such a control-freak that he just can’t work with other musicians any more.

Whatever the reason for his forays into trance-type music, I think this’ll be the last album of his that I buy (he said, in the full and certain knowledge that it won’t be).

Where’s the Mike we heard on Hergest Ridge, Ommadawn, 5 Miles Out, Amarok, to name but a few? Many of his fans admired his music for its interest and refusal to conform to what Virgin wanted from him, and frankly, even his 1980s ‘pop’ albums under Virgin (which many fans didn’t like, but I did) were great in comparison to his recent stuff. I am only 34 and have no problems with computer-generated music, but quite frankly, anyone with a copy of Cubase, some VST plugins and a small amount of musical talent can approximate Mike’s recent output. Simply put, I mourn the artistic death of a once great (and principled) talent, and releasing an album with a track whose title contains the words ‘fruity loops’ does what it says on the tin. We won’t mention the version of ‘Romance’ on the second disk.

One redeeming feature is the Umyx multimedia stuff on the first disk, which is quite a nice novelty for people who think that muting track sections and changing volume levels, sorry, ‘mixing’, approaches some kind of musical talent. It’s cute, though, so I’m not going to knock it.

Still, he’s rich and I’m not, so what do I know? Please though, Mike: pick up a mandolin, Solina string machine, timpani and an acoustic guitar and write some organic, breathing music again. What a pity.

Sums it up really. A poor effort from a bloke who used to do some great albums.

BAiT on the radio

BAiT made its first appearance on public radio tonight, on the Anita Miah show with Pete Chambers (author of ‘Godiva Rocks’ co-hosting). We were interviewed and played a couple of acoustic tracks live: In Her Eyes and Ocean Ride. Anita also played a track from our most recent album, The Full English.

The interview went well and we played the songs pretty well. Unfortunately, the casual nature of the studio set-up meant that the balance between instruments and harmonies didn’t come across too well in the broadcast, despite Anita’s best attempts to compress and balance things a little better real-time. There’s definitely a lesson to be learnt from this experience – don’t rely too heavily on the professionals being kitted out properly.

All in all a very enjoyable experience though. Hope we get chance to do some more radio some time.

Jon Anderson solo gig

Given that the week started so sadly with the death of Ronnie Barker, it has ended on a high note – literally.

evening I took a trip to Birmingham’s Symphony Hall to see Jon Anderson
of Yes on his solo tour of Europe. I wasn’t sure whether or not I was
going to go initially, but this morning I bit the bullet and decided it
was worth going, given that it would be the first time I had seen Jon
Anderson solo and there was a slight chance I would finally get to meet
him, having been a fan of Yes and each member’s solo work for seventeen
years. I had no problems getting a seat, given that I was going alone.

I went on the motorbike, parked up about an hour before the gig started
and walked round to the Symphony Hall, which is currently fronted by
the rather impressive Birmingham Eye (big wheel).

I paid the obligatory visit to the merchandise stand, where I bought a
t-shirt and got a free poster, and noticed a sign announcing that Jon
Anderson would be at the stand after the gig to sign merchandise.
Finally I would get my chance to meet one of my musical heroes.

The gig itself was excellent. Jon played a mix of material from his
solo albums, his work with Vangelis, and of course a few Yes songs. For
the main part, he played his custom-built MIDI guitar, which triggers
drum loops, keyboard chords, and sequenced bass-lines as he plays each
chord – quite interesting to see this technology in action. The guy is
61 this month and is still a pioneer in music technology! Even if I
didn’t like the songs he played (I did), I would have enjoyed the whole
technological experience.

After the gig I went back to the merchandise stand and duly queued up
to meet Jon. There were quite a few people in the queue and I got
chatting to a young couple (in their 20s) in front of me and a couple
behind me (in their early 40s). I asked the guy behind (Chris) if he’d
mind taking a picture of me with Jon and offered to return the favour
and email him the picture. Turns out that Chris is a photographer and
has worked with several bands, so I mentioned that BAiT could do with
some professional pictures in the near future and he seemed very keen
to do a photo session with us, so I’ll look forward to that.

After approximately 45 minutes, it was my turn to meet Jon. I asked him
to sign my ticket, which he kindly did, and then offered him BAiT’s two
most recent albums, The Full English and South Of The Delta, as a gift.
He thanked me, then agreed to have his picture taken with a ‘fellow
Northerner’. As I walked away, he called after me and, having observed
that I was wearing my bike leathers, asked if I was on a motorbike, and
told me to go easy. Nice bloke and a very down-to-earth in person.

I can thoroughly recommend a trip to see him on his tour, should the chance arise.

Ronnie Barker RIP

It has been announced that Ronnie Barker (or to use his nom de plume, Gerald Wiley) has died. Ronnie was the most talented comedy actor in this country of the last fifty years; head and shoulders above most other actor/comedians.

Well-loved by the public and his colleagues alike, he created characters both on paper and in the studio who will stand the test of time and remain in the nation’s hearts for many years to come. He (and Ronnie C) proved that good comedy need not be overtly crude or cynical. Barry Cryer has said he was in the same league as Peter Sellers, and I would have to agree.

A very sad loss. God bless you, Ronnie.