Sunday, July 17, 2016

No, this honkey believes that blue men can’t always sing the whites and sometimes shouldn’t even try (but no, I’ve not crossed over to the LibDems, no sir, life’s far too short). As for Turkey – well, what did we expect from an apprentice dictator such as Erdogan? That last remark will pretty much mark my card. If he staged his own coup, he wouldn’t be the first, but then, if…

There was a jokey question years ago, originally posed, I think, by Vivian Stanshall of the Bonzo Dog Do-Dah Band – and, no, I wasn’t a regular fan or thought they were the best thing since sliced bread – was ‘can blue men sing the whites’. I suppose, in the interests of clarity, I should deconstruct that but if you have already heard it or know what Stanshall was getting at, please don’t be offended. What with the rediscovery of ‘the blues’ in its various incarnations by British rock artists in the Sixties (much to the delight of America’s blues artists who were pretty much universally ignored in their home country), and given the provenance of the blues, it was asked, not necessarily stupidly, whether it was not just a little daft, not to say, insulting for nice white chaps and chappesses to sing the blues. In short, were we white honkeys entitled to sing the blues?

Well, that is a question I won’t get into here, mainly because life is too short. But again in short, I understand why some black folk might be offended, although I suspect the claim that whiteys shouldn’t sing the blues was first made by whitey liberals, many of whom tend to think those on whose behalf they fight the good fight aren’t really up to fighting their own corner and can do with a bit of whitey liberal help. (It’s pretty much a fact that no one is more appalled by ‘racism’ in Britain than white twentysomething middle-class Labour supporters in Hackney and LibDems in the rural Quantocks just outside Bristol).

If when you are singing the blues, you are singing about the goddam-awful life of your own, your parents, your grandparents, their parents and their grandparents, in what seemed like perpetual servitude with no hope of escape and betrayal by your government again and again and again, you do wonder quite how skinny white chaps from Dartford, Edgware, Macclesfield and Cardiff could really identify with the feeling of hopelessness or even the gallows humour which engendered many blues songs. As I say, it’s debatable and, wisely, not a debate you will find me involved in at any time soon. I mention this because last night my aunt and I drove the few miles to the parish Church of St Vincent (Eglise Saint Vincent for the sticklers) in Preignac to hear five singers who call themselves Concert Studio Gospel de La Bordeaux Gospel Academy singing a number of gospel songs. And I have to say, their technical abilities notwithstanding, I found the whole experience a tad dispiriting (ironically, pretty much the opposite of what gospel singing was intended to do).

First, my less contentious objections, in no particular order. The five of them – all white, needless to say - sang at the front of the church about 20 feet in front of the altar and were amplified, with their amps pointing towards them so, presumably, they could monitor themselves. But that meant that the sound was thrown into the rear of the church and up to the cupola, where it was reflected back into the church (and no doubt partly re-amplified when it was caught by the five microphones) and was generally a noisy mush of noise.

The five themselves did not have a range of voices necessary for and interesting choral sound: there was no bass, for one thing; and although they sang together well, there were no arrangements as such (for example not attempt at counterpoint to give a piece more texture). Had I not been in France in the Church of St Vincent in Preignac, Acquitaine, but somewhere in the West Midlands where I was told I was listening to a concert by the Evesham WI Singers (runners-up in the 2013 WI Sing Britain, Sing finals in the Albert Hall), I would have been none the wiser. And equally as unimpressed.

My more contentious point comes back to the satirical question ‘can blue men sing the whites’. And my response would be ‘no, not really your Honour’. Yes, I know I am on sticky ground here, and I know that there have been several white honkeys with exceptional voices – Treforest’s very own Tom Jones or Janice Joplin, for example - who might just pull of singing a blues or a spiritual. Just. But surely to goodness the provenance of gospel songs and spirituals make it difficult territory for us whiteys to trek on, some might say walk all over.

From what I know (and pedants are very welcome to write in and set me straight) when a congregation of slaves gathered on a Sunday in their makeshift church in South Carolina or Louisiana or Alamaba and encouraged each other somehow to find the strength to get through another week of the abject and hopeless misery by singing Wade In The Water or Praise Him or Everybody Sing Freedom or Swing Low Sweet Chariot (some of the songs sung last night), they really felt it. They felt it in their hearts and souls. They didn’t just sing those songs ‘because they liked the melodies’, they sang those songs out of desperation.

On my iPhone I have 24 songs by Marion Williams (I just put one on now, This Train) and listening to her and other black singers there is an almost indefinable essence which is wholly absent when the songs and music is played by whiteys. OK, I know I am laying myself wide open to criticism here, I would be very interested to hear contrary arguments (some hope – no one, but no one ever responds to my invitations to get in touch), but all I shall say ignore my possibly ham-fisted way of saying it, just try to listen to what I am trying to say. So they answer to the satirical question I quoted above – ‘can blue men sing the whites’ – is, as far as I am concerned, ‘no, not always by any means’.

.  . .

Then there’s Turkey. That fine example of democratic practice – 3,000 judges locked up overnight – Recip Tayyip Erdogan is at it again. He blames his would-be nemesis Fethullah Gűlen and for all I – we – know Gűlen might well be behind it all. He, on the other hand, suggests Erdogan is behind it all and staged ‘a coup’ as part of some Machiavellian strategy to neutralise his opponents. Neither claim is verifiable, but from where I sit that second claim would seem to be just a little more

plausible. It was, for example, odd how small the coup was and how easily the military involved in the coup threw in the towel. But I doubt whether you and I will even know the the truth of this mukey affair for many a year. I might well be dead by the time one or the other comes clean and announces to the world: ‘Ok, it’s a fair cop, it was me, guv.’

The US, of course, is stuffed because they need Turkey as somewhere to base their aircraft. And as Erdogan has been making things up with Israel – quite possibly, the thought occurs to me, in the run-up to staging his own ‘coup’ – the US is pretty much between a rock and a hard place. I don’t doubt the commentariat are full of opinions and in a minute – it is now 14.37 (2.37pm for my Brexiteer readers) and I shall have to wait another 10/15 – I shall listen to The World This Weekend on Radio 4 to collect my newest set of opinions. The EU is stuffed because they need some they can sell their immigrants to. But I can’t see EU members lining up soon to welcome Turkey into the brotherhood, not after this. Why buy in trouble.

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