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Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Young man blues

Live albums are always a bit of a risk for major recording artists and have been disastrous for some. For others though, the live album has served to redefine the group in question and springboard them to global prominence. Recorded from a live show at Leeds University on St.Valentines day 1970, "Live at Leeds" confirmed what many already knew. The Who had become the most dynamic live band of their time and this album became the QED for that argument.

A live recording is risky because it doesn't forgive the mistakes which can be papered over in the studion setting. This makes the "Live at Leeds" album all the more remarkable. The legendary South African golfer, Gary Player, was once asked why he was so lucky. His reply was succinct, "The more I practice, the luckier I get". True for him and true for The Who. On the back of their critically acclaimed rock opera "Tommy" the year before, the band had toured extensively and honed their live act. The Leeds album gave them the opportunity to show the world how good they were live.

I remember wearing the cassette out on my Sony Walkman in 1987 and have since advanced to the vinyl album. It is an extraordinary album with a good mix of familiar chart material and hitherto unfamiliar blues standards. Of the latter, the first track always sticks in my mind. "Young man blues" had been written by Mose Allison as far back as 1958. Allison has perhaps never received the critical acclaim of his contemporary Bob Dylan but his influence is undeniable.

The lyrics of the song aren't too sophisticated but the message is clear enough. Young men had the power in the old days but now they have nothing. The old man has all the money. That is the message of the song and here we are in 2013 witnessing its relevance as the young in our society are having their aspirations dashed by a series of greedy, detached, socially ignorant governments.

Just today, Theo Mertz has highlighted the time bomb facing Britain's public health system. The NEETS (Young people not in education, employment or training) are here to stay and growing in number at an alarming rate. The day will come when our already cachectic health service is faced with the job of dealing with the health consequences. Instead of ploughing money in to youth training schemes which is all very well, this and previous governments have repeatedly failed to address the cause of this problem.

Alluding to the findings of an International Report, we learn that the UK is failing a generation of women, young people and children. While the Right Wing Press happily predicts the Armageddon of Eastern European immigration to the UK, this report concludes that the life chances for women, children and young people are actually better in those countries. It would appear they are in for a shock then.

While the main political parties squabble with each other over which form of HS2 to adopt, children in the UK continue to live in poverty. At this point, we really need to step back and have a long, hard think about the country we want to be. Is it more important to get from Birmingham to London faster or for children to actually be able to eat something resembling nutrition at the next meal time?

I have written many times before about early years and don't apologise for doing so again. The million plus NEETS who have the Young Man Blues of today, might have had some aspiration if we had first got their early years right. If they are lacking in literacy, numeracy or any of the other key skills, we need to recognise that and do something about it for the next generation. We are missing opportunites to optimise their education in terms of literacy, numeracy, play, social skills and plain old self confidence. Low income continues to accentuate the growing divide between the haves and the have-nots. The minimum wage has been a step in the right direction but early years provision remains too costly for the many.

For fear of sounding overly repetitive, Scandinavia views early years rather differenly. They are available to all at greatly subsidised cost because their governments rightly recognise the value. Put simply, we can't afford not to and yet we continue to ignore it as an option. The social inequalities which continue to dictate life chances for so many people are entirely avoidable through a responsible taxation sytem. The political reasons which prevent this are contemptible.

The day after Sharon Shoesmith is being awarded a mountain of money for unfair dismissal having been ultimately responsible for the organisation which led to the unnecessary death of Baby P, our government ought to hang its head in shame. Every child regardless of background has the basic right to feel safe. A roof over their head with food and heating can be added to that. On the subject of heating, am I the only one who is getting rather tired of the way this subject is being handled at a national level?

This isn't too hard to work out. The main problem at present is power and the big six energy companies have too much of it. Not the power we need for our lights and heating. The power which plagues our society in which certain individuals and organisations consider themselves exempt from the accountability which the rest of us have to face daily. If the government really cared about this issue, they would hold the energy regulator to account. I can't believe that in spite of the recent price rises, most of these companies continue to operate a rubik's cube of tariffs which are all but incomprehensible to the majority. At best this is lazy but at worst it is just plain cynical. What would it take for the government to insist on a simple tariff code? Switching is a joke because the big six make it nigh on impossible for you to switch and the "competition" is a bit of a misnomer. Ed Milliband was right when, as Energy Secretary in the last government, he proclaimed that energy costs would continue to rise. I don't think anyone disputes that claim but I do take issue with the way in which the big six are increasing the prices so far in excess of real term costs.

Social inequality isn't all about heating though because diet and nutrition are just as important. Today, two of the biggest food retailers go to court over a dispute concerning price comparisons between them. The reality is that they can bicker all they like. Thay are both overcharging us all daily as they must to support the cost base of such gargantuan organisations. Quibbling over pennies is frankly insulting to the millions who can't even afford to shop there even if they wanted to. Also, if their prices were as cheap as they claim, why do they feel the urge to reward us with bonus points for shopping there? Good nature or false pretences? I go for the latter bacause I spent long enough working in the food industry to know that they all have to make their profit out of you somehow. Isn't it better to just have a fair bottom line price without the gimmicks?

Mose Allison was right in 1958 when he wrote "Young Man Blues". The sad part is how right he remains as a generation of young people face a life without aspiration. HS2? No thank you - I think we could do better with that sort of money...