Sparkwood & 21: Interesting name, interesting band

With an obscure name and a bass player who appeared on one of the last Peel Sessions, Sparkwood & 21 are four Liverpool lads who describe themselves as the “purveyors of harmonic melancholy.”

The name, first of all, is a reference to the cult American TV show Twin Peaks (ask your parents…) and the last known location of the character Laura Palmer whose disappearance the show revolves around.

Singer, guitarist and mandolin player John Daglish describes how it came about: “We had a long list of the names where lots of people went ‘No, no, no, no…’ and then about six of seven weeks later, ‘What about Sparkwood & 21?,’ ‘Oh that sounds alright…’

“It’s proved to be quite a good name because anyone who knows Twin Peaks says: ‘Is that a Twin Peaks reference?’ And you get other people who have seen us a few times say ‘You got your name from Twin Peaks!’ after they’ve gone and watched it.”

They’ve been together for around two years and just over a year with bass player Nik Kavanagh whose previous band made an appearance on one of legendary BBC DJ John Peel’s last sessions. Of the experience Kavanagh says: “amazing, absolutely amazing,” acknowledging that Peel’s untimely death in 2004 was a big loss to music.

Sparkwood & 21’s sound is a mix of acoustic, folk, pop and country: “Sad songs that make you feel happy and happy songs that make you feel sad,” says Daglish.

The band next play at Liverpool’s free Mello Mello venue at the corner of Wolstenhome Square and Slater Square on May 21 as part of the Liverpool Sound City festival.

For chilled out music from four very chilled out lads, check their MySpace where there’s also all the latest news and gig dates.

Susan Boyle and the myth of ‘reality’ TV

So you all know who Susan Boyle is. Britain’s Got Talent‘s singing sensation now commands over 40 millions hits on You Tube less than a fortnight after her appearance on the show that had audience members weeping and judge Amanda Holden on her feet applauding. She probably cried a bit as well, she tends to cry a fair bit.

It was a performance that took the world by storm. Boyle has been on morning television in the United States, Larry King Live and is slated for an appearance on Oprah. It’s a real 21st century rags to riches story in that it has happened in a ridiculously short amount of time.

When Boyle was first introduced to us, you, like me and all my friends, no doubt thought that this dowdy looking, 47-year-old, Scottish virgin was a bit of a joke. Then she opened her mouth, sang beautiful things and we all felt a little crap for having pre judged her.

But at the same time we were uplifted by this small town girl who proved us and everyone else wrong. The scowls and derisive laughter turned to tears of joy and the smirking from Simon Cowell and his fellow judges turned to admiration and high praise.

There was only one problem with it all. It was fake, all so fake and that’s what bothers me. Once again reality TV failed to live up to its name. It was reality but with a caveat in that everyone on the production team at Britain’s Got Talent knew how good Boyle was but rather than present her as such they decided to trick us all into thinking she was crap then unleash this beautiful singing voice on us.

Great TV of course but my issue is with honesty and transparency and on the very shows where this should be most evident it is not. Instead we have pre packaged, pre determined and pre judged ‘talent’ forced upon us because this is how Simon Cowell says it should be.

I’ve been told more than once before that Cowell and his team are in total control of everything that happens on his extensive catalogue of ‘reality’ TV shows and that’s a dangerous trend to a genre that has dominated the screens for the last ten years. 

Susan Boyle is a fantastic singer and her story is a fantastic one. I wish her every success but I worry for her too in that the extent to which her short career has been managed so far will only increase over the coming weeks and months and she becomes no longer the modest, unglamorous small town girl we were initially presented with but yet another pre packaged, soulless, singing talent for Cowell to make obscene amounts of money from.

UPDATE: As if the media frenzy surrounding Susan Boyle wasn’t manic enough, she’s now even been mentioned on South Park of all places!

A powerful message has made a difference

On Wednesday at Anfield, the 96 people who died at Hillsborough 20 years ago were not just remembered and honoured, their long suffering families were given hope.

The anger of the families, survivors, people of Liverpool and many others was conveyed very clearly to Culture Secretary Andy Burnham whose speech was interrupted by cries of “Justice for the 96” from the 30,000 plus people who attended the memorial service. 

This anger, reported throughout the mainstream media, has had a powerful effect.

Burnham, a good man who did well in a situation that can’t have been easy for him, relayed the people’s anger to the government and today the Liverpool Echo reports that the cabinet will probe claims of a ‘cover-up’ by South Yorkshire Police.

In the coming months they will decide whether there is a need to relax the 30-year secrecy rule if the “inquiry into an inquiry” shows any fresh evidence of police negligence on the day and in the aftermath. Nothing has been ruled in or out and that at least is a new and positive development.

The Daily Mirror has launched a campaign for justice that has the backing of 150 MPs and a petition is now online, calling for authorities to investigate whether criminal charges can be brought against any person or organisation connected with the Hillsborough disaster. It has over 4,000 signatures, it needs many more. 

Whatever you do, sign the petition. Families have fought for 20 years for justice for their lost loved ones and with your help, their fight can continue and be won. The events of the past few days have already shown the difference that can be made by your actions.

Bill Hart and the Mersey Sound Wave

Bill Hart, a Liverpool based music enthusiast, wants to construct an ambitious exhibition of guitars that have all been played at Liverpool’s Cavern Club, the venue made famous by The Beatles. 

The exhibition will commemorate and celebrate 50 years of the Mersey sound symbolised by John, Paul, George and Ringo throughout the 1960’s.

Last month, as part of my journalism course at LJMU, I interviewed Bill to find out more about the project and to see what drives him to take on such an ambitious task. 

You can find out more information and keep up to date about the progress of the Mersey Sound Wave by visiting the website.

Cuba/US: Relations thaw but no end to embargo

When I blogged a few days ago about the Cuban solidarity movement in Britain I may have jumped the gun in suggesting that the restrictions placed on the Cuba by the United States showed no signs of being lifted under the new Obama administration.

Truth is that relations, or the lack of, between the two countries are thawing but crucially the issue of ending the trade blockade, rightly or wrongly, is not on the agenda according to the US.

Being honest, I really don’t feel educated enough to comment on whether the blockade serves any real purpose but common consensus appears to be that it has done more harm than good.  At the Rock Around The Blockade meeting, I was constantly being told that Cuba is surviving even with the restrictions. But obviously even they feel that life would be easier for many Cubans without the blockade.

In lifting some travel restrictions and allowing Cuban-Americans with relatives on the island to send them more money, the Obama administration has offered a hand. It will now be up to the Cubans to reciprocate and according to president Raul Castro, the country is willing to discuss everything.

And that bodes well for the future of this most intriguing of Caribbean islands.

On this the 20th anniversary, educate yourselves

Following on from my blog yesterday I feel the need to inform as many people as possible of what happened on the day of Hillsborough, what happened subsequently and what continues to this day.

Many people are still unaware of the enormous miscarriage of justice that took place in the aftermath and the conspiracy to cover up any wrongdoing by South Yorkshire Police. There are guilty people out there, living comfortable lives whilst families cannot grieve properly for their lost loved ones.

Below is some stuff you should look at today, educate yourselves, become informed and join the fight for justice. It is a fight that has gone on these past 20 years without the intense media publicity of the last days and it will continue long after the media turn their attentions elsewhere. 

The club’s official TV channel is free to air all day and will have live coverage of the remembrance ceremony this afternoon.

The club’s official website has some moving survivors’ stories and Lynne Fox’s moving picture story

The Liverpool Daily Post has a must read story about the families ongoing fight for justice which outlines the extent to which they were and continue to be let down by the establishment. 

David Conn’s brilliant piece in Monday’s Guardian outlines even further how much the families have been let down and includes an interview with the current chief constable of South Yorkshire Police.

The BBC’s audio slideshow is not easy to watch but should be watched nonetheless. The website’s coverage features a wide range of video interviews with survivors, families, players, and more. 

If you think there’s anything else people should check out then leave a comment and link below.

Finally I cannot stress enough the importance of watching Jimmy McGovern’s ‘Hillsborough’ docu-drama  which is being re-screened on ITV 3 at 9pm tonight. If there’s one thing you watch on TV today it should be this. Educate yourself and then educate others.

Justice for the 96.

UPDATE: The Independent‘s James Lawton has also written a brilliant piece in today’s paper. We need more journalists exposing the sickening miscarriages of justice.

Remembering the 96

I’ve supported Liverpool pretty much all my life and I have contemplated for a long while writing something about Hillsborough, never really being able to decide how or what to write about. 

To write something personal is perhaps the most difficult thing but not as difficult as it is for most people who really have a connection to the events of Saturday, April 15 1989.

Let me be clear from the outset that I should have no emotional involvement or attachment to the disaster. I did not know anyone killed at Hillsborough. I do not know personally anyone who survived. I’ve met hundreds of Liverpool fans down the years so chances are I’ve probably met a few surivors or people who were close to those that died. I’ve probably even sat next to them or near them at Anfield. But I’ve never sat down and had a conversation with them about that day. 

A few weeks ago I decided that I was going to do my final year dissertation on the effect media coverage had on the victims and families connected to the Hillsborough disaster and whether it impacted on their subsequent legal battles that continue to this day. 

As I had to write a proposal for it I did a fair amount of research, read lots of articles, saw lots of pictures, read extracts from the Taylor report, watched YouTube videos of the news coverage that day and then I watched Jimmy McGovern’s ‘Hillsborough’. For a few days afterwards I couldn’t sleep properly.

I thought about it loads. I became emotionally involved in it. I couldn’t help it but it bothered me and I wondered, why? Having thought about it part of my reasoning is that I love Liverpool Football Club and I love the city of Liverpool. Perhaps it impacted on me the way it did because it is the defining moment in the history of the football club I hold so close to my heart and it is perhaps one of the saddest and most tragic moments in the history of this city. 

Thinking about Hillsborough makes me sad and it makes me angry, it always has. But in the midst of intense dissertation research and on the eve of the 20th anniversary with media coverage considerably heightened this year, wrongly or rightly, these feelings are intensified. 

My anger stems from the denial of justice, the very obvious denial of justice and the continued ignorance of people worldwide to the causes of the disaster fuelled by the media coverage on that day and the media coverage to this day. 

In recent years the article in FHM, the comments of now London Mayor Boris Johnson and countless other small, less publicised examples have shown how many continue to misinterpret, misunderstand, and misrepresent the facts of Hillsborough to the enormous pain and suffering of victims and their families who live every day with the horrors of Hillsborough. Some without the presence of a son, a daughter, a husband, a wife, a brother, or a sister or with the memories of the crush seared into their brain. Their suffering is unimaginable, incomprehensible.

But who looks out for their interests? No one. The establishment has systematically failed them. It was as if the Taylor report meant nothing except to sanitise football. It did, it changed the game, undoubtedly for the better but the 96 lives it took to instigate the changes were seemingly worthless when it came to holding to account those at fault. In other words, 96 people died, hundreds were injured, thousands were effected but no one really cared about them as long as football got better.

When I asked my dad about Hillsborough the other day the most telling thing he said to me was:  “It was as though the lives of football supporters didn’t matter as much as other peoples’ lives.” I don’t think he could have been more accurate. It is why the police acted the way they did on the day of Hillsborough and it is why, in the aftermath, as my dad continued “The Sun story found such a receptive audience.” and thus why the fight for justice goes on to this very day because too many people didn’t understand and didn’t care and still don’t. 

South Yorkshire Police continue to deny a systematic cover up when all the evidence says otherwise  and even a government minister, a person of authority who is sadly very much in the minority, has labeled it “a black propaganda campaign. That’s what it is. It was then, when police briefed the media and altered their junior officers’ statements to hide their own culpability, and it is now when they continue to deny that they tried to cover it up.

On April 15 1989, South Yorkshire Police committed their greatest crime in failing to carry out their duties properly and save peoples lives. But their second greatest crime is one that they continue to perpetrate to this very day and that is to deny the cover up that has done unquantifiable harm to the victims and their families. 

On this the 20th anniversary of the disaster let us not just remember but let us make known to everyone the full extent of the anger, pain and injustice still felt in the hope that something can be done about it. We, and I’m not just referring to football supporters but to all human beings, owe that to the 96.