Tuesday 23 December 2008

Christmas Blog

The end of the year is nigh- The Sufjan Stevens Christmas box set is out and playing a soundtrack of merry melancholy and mellifluous mayhem (that man is so good damn him) and I always find myself thinking about highs and lows both personally and in the wider world- kind of summing up the year in my head. Though my summing up is a poor reflection of reality I’m sure!

It’s been a rollercoaster of a year really- Finally launching the Red Tree album back in May was a brilliant time. A great launch party night, some fantastic reviews, and the opportunity to work and perform with some very talented musicians in the gigs that followed- that really is the fun side of the job!! And more recently BBC Radio Two playing of Red Tree on Whispering Bob’s (he probably hates that name) Saturday program is definitely a high! The downside has been trying to keep the momentum rolling as it has been a little more stop-start than was planned with more gigs being cancelled by promoters than I’ve ever experienced before as well as two of the festivals that I was booked to play over the summer also cancelled. It seems that a lot of it has been a direct effect of the credit crunch- I have had many of conversations with others about this. Some are telling me its all in the mind and nothing is changing but it does seem to me (at least from my struggling in the garret to make art type level) to have had quite an impact. That said I want to take my hat off to all of you and those promoters who have carried on regardless and continue to support live music!

I personally have been to some fantastic gigs over the year. Leonard Cohen at the Manchester Opera House comes out at the top- but also up in the highs were- Sigur Ros’s beautiful soundscapes and mindblowingly stunning display of visuals, Ani Difranco and her performance full of passion and energy, Jose Gonzales intense intricate and unique guitar style songs and Cerys Matthews who’s powerful set was full of diversity, self deprecating humour and soulful delivery. All very inspiring and energising!
I’ve opened for some great acts also this year- Jackie Leven being one of them- his storytelling was very engaging.

Obama was elected! I almost hadn’t dared to hope after the disappointments of the last elections. The great Odetta passed away. Somehow Hallelujah was performed on The X factor- ok so its not the Cohen, Cale, Buckley or KD Lang version all of which wax and wane between mystical and earthy content of the lyrics- but hey its still a surprisingly astute choice for X factor!

And finally to wrap these rather randomly assorted thoughts- I want to say something about the current situation in Palestine this Christmas. I guess having worked out there and experienced a little of what life under occupation is like- I can’t think of Bethlehem at this time of year (all the carol and Christmas cards etc) without talking about what the situation as it is. I was involved last week in an ‘Alternative Carol’ event called Carols by Check Point that included traditional carols, alongside re-written versions telling the story of Palestine today under occupation. I’ve included a bit of blurb about Bethlehem that was in the program, below and also would like to draw attention to an inspiring and courageous campaign headed by young Israeli teens known as ‘THE SHMINISTIM’ who are refusing to do their compulsory military service as they cannot morally partake the inhumane practises of the occupation. This means that they are in and out of prison continually for the 3- 4 years that they do not do their military service and will of course have repercussions on employment opportunities etc… http://december18th.org
Follow the link here to the website and find out more and sign their petition letter ….

So all that remains is to wish you a Merry Christmas- look forward to seeing you all on the road some place soon in 2009.

(oh yes and the live album- well it will happen sometime in 09 so watch this space… as always everything takes 100 times longer than my optimistic forecasting!!)

Bethlehem Blurb

Bethlehem Today
The 'little town' is smaller than once it was. A 9-metre high snaking concrete wall splits it, dividing people from their land; residents are prevented from moving around the Palestinian territory of the West Bank, not to mention the application process for permits to get to Jerusalem (some of which is also Palestinian) - these are only given to those in employment, only last 3 months and there is no guarantee of renewal or that the checkpoint allowing access will be open at any given time. Jerusalem is six miles from Bethlehem, so this effectively cuts off secure employment opportunities for thousands and thousands of people. Checkpoints do not only exist between Palestinian and Jewish Israeli areas but also within Palestinian territory; simply to get to the neighbouring Palestinian town or village (without going anywhere near Jewish Israeli dwellings), Palestinians frequently experience military checkpoints which can cause disruption, delay, humiliation or simple prevention from passing through. Access to work, emergency medicine, routine healthcare, family and land is routinely made difficult, slow or impossible.

International law states that an occupying force is not allowed to settle its citizens in the territory which it occupies. Israel has been illegally settling Israeli Jews in the West Bank consistently over the years and continues to do so, as other nations tacitly support this with their silence. These settlements generally take the form of towns on the top of formerly green hills, often clearly visible from the Palestinian towns and villages from whom the land has been 'confiscated'.
The settlements are connected by roads accessible only to the Jewish Israeli residents. Local Palestinians cannot use them or cross them. The joint effect of the road, the settlements, the checkpoints, the roads reserved for one people group, and the Wall, is what Jeff Halper (a Jewish Israeli) describes as the 'Matrix of Control'. He says "The Matrix of Control, then, conceals behind a facade of seemingly innocuous administrative devices and ostensibly justified military and physical constraints a repressive regime intended to permanently deny the Palestinians self-determination, citizenship, and basic human and civil rights." (from 'Obstacles to Peace', p.23).

The local population call for us to hear the stories of the present as well as the stories of the past, and to consider the reality of the place when we sing of Bethlehem in our Christmas celebrations. They ask us to learn, to go, to remember, to tell their stories and to act on what we know.

THE SMALL PRINT I: International Law. The International Court of Justice ruled in 2004 that the “construction of the wall being built by Israel, the occupying Power, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem, and its associated regime, are contrary to international law”, that “Israel is under an obligation to terminate its breaches of international law; it is under an obligation to cease forthwith the works of construction of the wall being built in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem, to dismantle forthwith the structure therein situated”, and that “Israel is under an obligation to make reparation for all damage caused by the construction of the wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem”.
THE SMALL PRINT II: Britain’s Approach. The UK Government response to the ‘barrier’, as described on the FCO website, is exactly as follows: “We fully recognise Israel's right to self-defence and agree that a barrier is a reasonable way to achieve this. However, we call for the barrier to be built either on or behind the Green Line.
The route, which the Israeli Cabinet approved on 20 February 2005, takes in a number of Israeli settlements, whose presence is illegal under international law. It also threatens to split the West Bank in two, which in turn undermines the prospects for a two-state solution.
We are profoundly concerned at the impact the barrier has on the lives of Palestinians, and deplore the destruction of Palestinian homes and the confiscation of land associated with its construction.
We have made our concerns extremely clear to the Israeli government and will continue to do so.”
Settlement and wall building continues apace. The raising of concerns does not appear to be a particularly strong deterrent.