Posts Tagged ‘great britain’

By John Ruberry

Earlier this month Season Six of the BBC gangster drama, Peaky Blinders, began streaming on Netflix.

The show centers on a Birmingham Romani organized crime family, the Shelbys, and the leader of that gang, Tommy Shelby (Cillian Murphy). He’s a World War I veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome, who manages to build a business empire, while getting elected to Parliament as a member of the Labour Party.

This will be the final season of Peaky Blinders, although a movie is said to be in the works.

The next two paragraphs contain some Season 5 and 6 spoilers.

During Season 5 a new major character, Oswald Mosley (Sam Claflin), a Birmingham member of Parliament like Tommy Shelby, is introduced. He’s the founder of a British fascist party–and Mosley was a real person. Shelby’s relationship with Mosley is complicated, which fits the show as the plot lines are anything but simplistic. Shelby’s plot to assassinate Mosley–the real Oswald died of natural causes in 1980–is foiled by the Irish Republican Army. The IRA kills the would-be assassin and other member of the Peaky Blinders, the “muscle” end of the Shelby operation.

While Tommy is the leader of the gang, his aunt, Elizabeth Pollyanna “Polly” Shelby Gray (Helen McCrory), was the glue of the enterprise, formally known as Shelby Family Limited. But McCrory died at 52 of lung cancer in 2021, just as production of this season started. Other than Tommy Shelby, Aunt Polly was the most important character in Peaky Blinders. Her off-screen death was a tough blow for the show. To compensate, the role of Tommy’s sister, Ada Thorne (Sophie Rundle), is elevated, but Rundle is placed in an impossible position. Meanwhile, Polly’s son, Michael Gray (Finn Cole), holds Tommy responsible for Polly’s murder.

Also back in Season 5, another new character Gina (Anya Taylor-Joy), Michael’s wife, makes her debut. We learn in the new season that Gina is the niece of South Boston gangster Jack Nelson (James Frecheville). He’s a not-too-thinly disguised characterization of Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. Like the patriarch of the Kennedy dynasty, Nelson has anti-Semitic and fascist leanings. Calm down my liberal friends, it’s true about Kennedy. With Prohibition over, Tommy and Nelson hope to offset the end of it by smuggling opium into Boston. 

Mosley has a new lover, Lady Diana Mitford (Amber Anderson). She declares herself to Ada, in cruder terms, as a bisexual but she also has her eyes on Tommy. The real Mitfort was the first cousin of Winston Churchill’s wife, Clementine. Unless this plotline is being saved for the Peaky Blinders movie, I am stupefied why this angle wasn’t developed into the storyline. The future wartime leader, amazingly is portrayed by three actors over the six seasons, makes a cameo appearance in Season 6. 

Season 5 ends and Season 6 begins with Tommy wallowing in mud. And mud is fitting metaphor for this season, while good, falls short of the greatness of Peaky Blinders, although I didn’t care for the Russian diversion in Season 3. The final episode of this last season, nearly 90 minutes long, is the best, as Tommy’s older brother, Arthur (Paul Anderson), emerges somewhat from his alcohol and drug induced haze as the Shelbys face a two-front war. A third front of sorts is there too as Tommy’s marriage with Lizzie (Natasha O’Keeffe) faces challenges. 

In regard to Nelson, Season 6 would have been much more interesting if instead Joseph P. Kennedy was the Boston foil for Tommy.

Surprisingly, while the show continues with a dark and gothic soundtrack, the unofficial theme song, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ “Red Right Hand” is sadly missing. But arguably the worst song Bob Dylan ever recorded, “All The Tired Horses,” covered by Lisa O’Neill, is included.

All six seasons of Peaky Blinders are currently streaming on Netflix. It is rated TV-MA for nudity, drug use, foul language, and violence. 

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

By John Ruberry

Listening to music is a serendipitous adventure. And it was on one of those journeys I uncovered another great band that you’ve probably never heard of, The Divine Comedy. Last year before the post was swallowed up by a memory hole at Da Tech Guy, I profiled another undeservedly unknown band, the Rainmakers. Only I first encountered the Rainmakers on a local radio station years ago.

I discovered The Divine Comedy when I downloaded the “Inspired by the Kinks” compilation on Apple iTunes. A great collection, yes, and easily the standout cut for me was “The National Express,” a satirical look at a ride on the eponymous company’s bus line.

Unknown? As this is an American blog with, I believe, a predominately American readership, that’s true. But The Divine Comedy has scored hits in Europe, particularly in Great Britain and Ireland, which is understandable as the band’s only constant member is Neil Hannon, who is from Northern Ireland.

As great as “The National Express” is, there’s just one small issue in my opinion. I’m a huge Kinks fan, but unless you count that British band’s last big hit, “Come Dancing,” it doesn’t sound like any other Kinks tune.

Listen for yourself!

The Divine Comedy’s first album, since cancelled by Hannon, was the R.E.M. inspired Fanfare for the Comic Muse, which was released in 1990. The only place it seems to be available is on YouTube. If you somehow find a copy of it at a rummage sale or used record store, grab it if it’s priced cheap, as it is probably a collector’s item.

The band then “regenerated” three years later into a chamber pop, or if you prefer Britpop band, for Liberation. Actually I prefer the moniker baroque pop. Regardless of the name, what kind of music am I talking about? Think along the lines of “Penny Lane” by the Beatles, “Senses Working Overtime” or “Easter Theatre” by XTC, or “Never My Love” by The Association, the glimmering song that was used with such beautiful yet chilling effect in the final episode of the most recent season of Outlander. Oh, throw in a bit of Cole Porter too. Back to Liberation: My favorite song from that collection is “The Pop Singer’s Fear of the Pollen Count,” which is cleary inspired by the Beach Boys. Yes, I suffer from allergies too so I can commiserate.

Hannon, who writes nearly all of the band’s songs, is a clever lyricist who brings wit and even snarkiness to many of his songs. The Divine Comedy’s melodies are striking and the musicianship is superb.

Here’s a snippet from “Catherine the Great.”

With her military might
She could defeat anyone that she liked
And she looked so bloody good on a horse
They couldn’t wait
For her to invade
Catherine the Great.

Yes, there is a sly reference here to the historical gossip that the Empress of Russia died from a mishap during carnal relations with a stallion.

“The Frog Princess” incorporates strains of “La Marseillaise” into it.

One more Divine Comedy favorite of mine is “Gin Soaked Boy” from the 1999 compilation A Secret History…The Best of the Divine Comedy, which might be good place for you to see if The Divine Comedy is for you. Or you can begin as I did on Apple Music with their “Essentials” and “Next Steps” collections.

Of the band’s dozen studio albums Fin de Siècle, which contains “The National Express,” is my favorite. If you prefer to see what the Divine Comedy is up to now, its latest album is Office Politics. The track I enjoy the most on this collection is “Philip and Steve’s Furniture Removal Company.” It’s about a proposed sitcom and its theme song, both devised by Hannon, in which minimalist classical composers, Philip Glass and Steve Reich, operate a furniture removal business in the 1960s in New York.

Silly? Of course. Brilliant? Definitely.

Oh yes, I said “regenerated” earlier. Regeneration is the title of the Divine Comedy’s 2001 album. Perhaps not coincidentally Hannon contributed a couple of solo tracks, “Song for Ten” and “Love Don’t Roam” to Doctor Who: Original Television Soundtrack from 2006.

In addition to Apple Music works by The Divine Comedy are also available on Amazon.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

By John Ruberry

There was no post from me last week here as I was on vacation in Alaska with Mrs. Marathon Pundit celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary and getting away from all of the craziness in what Alaskans call “the lower 48.”

Surely leftists’ obsession with tearing down statues hadn’t come to the Last Frontier?

Wrong. It is there too.

While listening to a Talkeetna, Alaska NPR station–which was apparently the only FM station I could pick up in “Gateway to Denali”–I heard a Native American artist from Sitka say, “Take them all down.” The statues, that is. Well, presumably not all of them, just ones of old dead white guys.

A friend of mine who lives in Anchorage urged me to get a photograph of the Captain James Cook statue in Resolution Park, where the bronze likeness of the English explorer, who led the first expedition of Europeans into what is now known as Cook Inlet in 1778, looks over his eponymous bay.

Why?

“Before Cook is taken away,” he warned me.

I believe the Cook statue is a goner. A Change.org petition to remove Cook from Resolution Park, which is named after his flagship, went online last month and attracted a lot of attention, including that of Anchorage’s Democratic mayor, San Francisco native Ethan Berkowitz. He’s a weasel and he punted the decision to an Anchorage native community of 70 to decide the statue’s fate.

Cook haters and everyone who despises white explorers should be able to take solace in knowing that the captain was killed by native Hawaiians on the Big Island several months after sailing into Cook Inlet. But no.

Anchorage is a sister city of Whitby, England, the town where Cook began his maritime career, and the Resolution Park statue is a replica of the Whitby one. Yes, there is a drive in the UK to topple that Cook statue, although the member of parliament who represents Whitby says it will be removed “over my dead body.”

But like hungry sharks, the first kill is never enough for that haters of white man statues. Even in Alaska. What was then known as Russian America was purchased by the United States in 1867; the driver of that purchase was William H. Seward, the US secretary of state. Seward, a rival of Abraham Lincoln for the 1860 presidential nomination, was seen as more anti-slavery than Lincoln. Along with the Great Emancipator, Seward successfully used diplomacy to keep Great Britain and France from recognizing the Confederacy and intervening in our Civil War. On the night Lincoln was assassinated Seward was seriously wounded as well.

In short, most people agree Seward was one of history’s good guys.

We stayed in the village of Seward for a couple of days last month–there’s bust of him there, which is so far safe. That is not the case with the Seward statue in Juneau, Alaska’s capital. Yes, there is a Change.org petition calling for getting rid of it.

Seward’s Day is a state holiday it Alaska, it commemorates that signing of the Alaska Purchase treaty. There is a Seward Highway–which we traveled on last month–and a Seward Peninsula in our 49th state. Clearly, the usually overlooked Seward is a noticeable presence in Alaska. If Juneau’s Seward statue goes, which Seward remembrance will be next?

In Sitka, there is a Change.org petition to remove the statue of Alexander Baranov, who once headed the Russian-American company.

Mrs. Marathon Pundit and I journeyed to the Last Frontier, among other things, to get away from the craziness in the continental United States.

But that was not possible.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

By John Ruberry

Fifty Octobers ago a brilliant musical work was released that Rolling Stone called, “By all odds the best British album of 1969,” adding, “It shows that Pete Townshend still has worlds to conquer, and that the Beatles have a lot of catching up to do.”

The Who issued Tommy that spring and the Beatles’ last recorded album, Abbey Road, was released in September.

What was that “best British album?” Arthur (or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire) by the Kinks, written and produced by Ray Davies.

To celebrate, the Kinks, who broke up in 1996, but the surviving original members appear to have re-formed, last week released a twelve disc vinyl collector’s edition filled with remixes, demos, mono versions, new songs, and a never-released Dave Davies solo album.

There’s shorter version also available too. On Friday I downloaded the 1 hour 22 minute edition on Apple Music, with mono versions (why?), some alternative cuts, and one new song, “The Future,” credited to Arthur and the Emigrants (with Ray Davies).

Arthur is a great as I remembered. But the album was released at a troubled time for the Kinks. Fed up with the band’s lack of success, bassist Peter Quaife left. In 1965 the Kinks were banned by performing in the United States by the American Federation of Musicians. The ban, which to this date was never explained, was lifted in 1969, but much had changed by the end of the 1960s. The Who, the Rolling Stones, and the Beatles had expanded their fan base–it was always large for the Beatles–and they also expanded the breadth of their music.

Meanwhile, the Kinks were in a way marooned in England. Like children forbidden by their parents from playing outside after a blizzard and the usual resultant bitter cold temperatures, Ray Davies and the Kinks were locked inside and forced to rely on what they could find at home musically to entertain themselves. Much of their mid-1960s output owed much to British Musical Hall, the tunes of their parents. Music Hall in Britain is what Vaudeville was to America, only it spawned a distinct musical style that centered on spirited singing and catchy melodies that begged for sing-alongs. Famous, or used-to-be famous Music Hall songs include “Ta-ra-ra Boom-de-ay,” “Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit-Bag,” and “I’m Henery the Eighth, I Am.” That last one was a 1960s hit for Herman’s Hermits. That band scored another hit with “Dandy,” a Kinks song.

The Kinks first American hit was “You Really Got Me” in 1964, that tune and similar early Kinks aural assaults inspired two genres, punk rock and heavy metal. In 1967, the Music Hall-inspired “Mr. Pleasant” was the last Kinks single to break the Billboard Hot 100 until “Victoria,” the opening track of Arthur.

The Kinks clearly were back as hard rockers with “Victoria,” but there are still are Music Hall influences on Arthur. This is a concept album meant to be the soundtrack to a television play that never aired. Even in success they failed. When introducing a song on their last album, the (mostly) live To The Bone, Ray laments, “It kind of summarizes everything we’re about, the Kinks. Because everyone is expecting us to do wonderful things and we mess it all up, usually.”

The Arthur narrative centers on an elderly English suburbanite who symbolizes the disappointment that in 1969, Britain was not a classless society, as was hoped for after World War II ended.

From the album’s liner notes (courtesy of the Kinda Kinks site):

Arthur? Oh, of course–England and knights and round tables, Excalibur, Camelot, “So all day long the noise of battle roll’d among the mountains by the winter sea.” Sorry, no. This is Arthur Morgan, who lives in a London suburb in a house called Shangri-La, with a garden and a car and a wife called Rose and a son called Derek who’s married to Liz, and they have these two very nice kids, Terry and Marilyn. Derek and Liz and Terry and Marilyn are emigrating to Australia. Arthur did have another son, called Eddie. He was named for Arthur’s brother, who was killed in the battle of the Somme. Arthur’s Eddie was killed, too–in Korea. His son, Ronnie, is a student and he thinks the world’s got to change one hell of a lot before it’s going to be good enough for him. Derek thinks it’s changed a bloody sight too much–he can’t stand England any more, all these bloody bureaucrats everywhere, bloody hell, he’s getting out. Ronnie and Derek don’t exactly get on.

Families split along political lines? You mean like now? Brexit versus EU? Donald Trump versus Elizabeth Warren?

Derek and family’s move to Australia mirrors the Davies’ sister Rosie and her husband, Arthur, relocation to Down Under a few years earlier, which inspired the 1966 Kinks’ song, “Rosie Won’t You Please Come Home.” That tune, as with many Kinks songs, is also a story. While watching Ken Burns’ Country Music series on PBS, one of the commentators mentioned that many of the greatest country songs involve stories, sometimes dramas. Which deep down is why I love the work of the Kinks. Their music is compelling. The tales they tell even more so.

One story from Arthur, a Music Hall romp, is “She Bought a Hat Like Princess Marina.”

She’s bought a hat like Princess Marina’s
To wear at all her social affairs
She wears it when she’s cleaning the windows
She wears it when she’s scrubbing the stairs
But you will never see her at Ascot
She can’t afford the time or the fare
But she’s bought a hat like Princess Marina’s
So she don’t care.

He’s bought a hat like Anthony Eden’s
Because it makes him feel like a Lord
But he can’t afford a Rolls or a Bentley
He has to buy a secondhand Ford
He tries to feed his wife and his family
And buy them clothes and shoes they can wear
But he’s bought a hat like Anthony Eden’s
So he don’t care.

The saddest song I know of, from anyone, is another story from Arthur, “Some Mother’s Son.”

Two soldiers fighting in a trench
One soldier glances up to see the sun
And dreams of games he played when he was young
And then his friend calls out his name
It stops his dream and as he turns his head
A second later he is dead.

Some mother’s son lies in a field
Back home they put his picture in a frame
But all dead soldiers look the same
While all the parents stand and wait
To meet their children coming home from school
Some mother’s son is lying dead.

The music on Arthur rises to the occasion too. Unlike many late 1960s efforts, the horns compliment, not dominate, the songs. And the Kinks, led by lead guitarist Dave Davies, are at the top of their instrumental game here.

Arthur was not a hit but it enjoyed modest sales, unlike its pastoral predecessor The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society, which wasn’t able to crack Billboard’s Hot 200 Albums chart. The stage was set for the Kinks’ return to well-deserved prominence one year later with Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One. That album of course contained “Lola,” their biggest American hit since 1965’s “Tired of Waiting for You.”

The Kinks were back.

But then it was time to “mess it all up” again. There wasn’t a Part Two of the Lola album. The next year the Kinks released a country rock collection, Muswell Hillbillies which began another decline in popularity. Only this time their time in the wilderness would last much longer.

Oh, one more item. After 50 years, the play Arthur (or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire will finally be performed. That will happen later this year on BBC Radio.

God Save The Kinks!

John Ruberry blogs at Marathon Pundit.