People’s History of Pop

The People’s History of Pop (5×60 BBC4) tells the story of over five decades of British rock & pop music, told by the people who loved it most – the fans. We have crowdsourced people’s stories and stuff from the music of the 1950s to 2010.

dbI worked across all 5 episodes finding and casting contributors from across the UK who not only had rare music memorabilia but a great story that would fit the narrative of each episode. I singlehandedly shoot interviews on a Canon XF305 as well as carried out on-camera interviews. I also set up locations, fact checked scripts, researched archive footage and was responsible for clearing all music.

 

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What do Brussels Sprouts and UKIP have in common?

The festive season is officially over. Having finally settled back into my routine, I cycled to work early this morning through the grey January drizzle, passing a guard of honour of Christmas trees lying limp on the pavement. Although it left me exhausted and quite literally with more pounds on my waistline than my bank I am truly sad it’s over. This year our house was heaving with people and filled with the sort of geniality I thought possible only in John Lewis adverts. This year we had Americans come to stay.

The offender Photo Cred: Creative Commons

The offender
Photo Cred: Creative Commons

When the Brits colonised the Americas we imported our language, our disease, our monarchy (briefly) yet we apparently forgot the sprout. As my sister’s boyfriend forked one, enquiring in his southern drawl what ‘this little guy’ was my jaw, primed for a mouthful of turkey, dropped. When he said they were tasty we had to explain that although we had served sprouts, no one is expected to like them.

A similar conversation was had about UKIP. The Americans didn’t take long to ask that question, having glanced at a few newspaper headlines on their tours of village pubs and tearooms. In hindsight I can’t help drawing some comparisons to the sprout incident. Like the shrivelled greens, UKIP are not universally liked but they are present at the table nevertheless. This led to the first of many wine-fuelled family debates, induced by the irresistible desire to explain everything about British society and culture that occurs when in the presence of our trans-Atlantic friends.

My slight defence of UKIP was met with quizzical looks and raised eyebrows: has the family flag-bearer of the far left been hiding a dark, purple and yellow secret? No. I have, and probably alway will vote Green. Although I do like their colours I certainly don’t support UKIP’s policies, but I do support democracy.

Another apparent triumph for UKIP Photo cred: Creative Commons

Another apparent triumph for UKIP
Photo cred: Creative Commons

That the population feels free to abandon engrained voting patterns and ‘protest’ against mainstream parties says to me that our political state of affairs is in much better shape than some of our European neighbours. UKIP gaining support isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it’s just democracy. And if our democracy has room for the likes of Nigel Farage then it’s a robust one. What really bothers me is the reaction the media, prominent politicians and seemingly half the country have to their presence.

With every gain UKIP makes, the media screams blue murder and the other parties seem to swing further to the right. The Tories are nudging further in UKIP’s direction on immigration, Euroscepticism and welfare in order to ‘win back’ voters. When Labour nearly lost a seat to UKIP last autumn, Miliband announced a hardened stance against immigration. That a party can so dramatically change its views in order to save a seat, to me, is the frightening factor in this debate.

I don’t believe there are many people planning on voting UKIP in the upcoming general election who genuinely support its policies. The party’s appeal is simply its ability to be clear on what it stands for. When explaining UKIP to our American guests I found it easy to list off a range of things they stand for: Euroscepticism, anti-immigration, breastfeeding in a corner… Yet upon being asked what the other British political parties stood for, I drew a blank. I haven’t a clue what they actually bring to the table.

The other offender Photo cred: Creative Commons

The other offender
Photo cred: Creative Commons

Rather than the two seats UKIP has in the Commons, the real threat is that our political system will dissolve into a puddle of shifting opinions and sound bites. Mainstream politicians seem so busy wandering around factories looking concerned, pausing to offer a well-rehearsed sound bite for the News at 10, that they seem to have forgotten to stand for anything. Any policy they do announce seems entirely dependent on what others are thinking and doing.

British history has favoured those politicians who were divisive – Gladstone, Thatcher, even Tony Blair – because they were driven by principles they rarely compromised. Present day politicians would do well to remember that.

Despite what the front pages imply, I don’t believe we are the prejudiced and frightened nation UKIP is marketing itself at. But at the same time we don’t want sound bites for policies. We simply want someone with a clear, genuine message and currently the only person offering one is Nigel Farage.

Fact and Fantasy

Alex Salmond is possibly days away from being able to award himself the title of the man who freed Scotland, the man who created a new country, the man who broke from the chains and oppression of “The Westminster Elite”.

This modern-day William Wallace – a likeness I’m sure he would humbly accept – does not seem to care that his ambitions for political notoriety will impact everyone, not just the Scots. He talks as if the inhabitants of Westminster and, by association, England are no better than they are depicted in the film Braveheart. Instead of 182 minutes of rude and wildly dramatic (not to mention historically inaccurate) demonstrations of Anglophobia, we have endured months of equally sensational and even ruder statements from the real-life answer to Mel Gibson’s Wallace. The Scottish Salmond would admittedly be a mildly more acceptable choice for the role that took such liberties depicting the dreaded English and he’s already shown a preference for fiction over fact.

Alex Salmond MSP, First Minister of Scotland. Photo Cred: Wikipedia

Alex Salmond MSP, First Minister of Scotland. Photo Cred: CC Wikipedia

Part of me would love to watch Mr Salmond get his way simply so I can watch the smug, self-congratulating smirk he carries slip away as he attempts to live up to every unrealistic promise he has made and answer every question he has dodged with that most coveted word: “scaremongering”. Of course it’s scaremongering – the uncertainty of independence is scary. It is not, and will not be the rose tinted vision of freedom and prosperity that Salmond purports. Reality doesn’t come in that colour; it’s dark and uncertain.

Let’s assume Scotland can keep the Queen who, apparently, would be proud to be Queen of Scots and content with the First Minister putting words in her mouth. Let’s assume they can keep the Pound, controlled by the Bank of England, and still call themselves independent with dignity. Let’s imagine they are accepted into the EU, UN, IMF and NATO and still get rid of Trident. Let’s assume their economic prosperity grows as an independent nation, despite dwindling oil reserves and without the cosy comfort of the Barnett formula. Let’s presume that they’ll continue to offer free higher education, free prescriptions and shield the NHS from cuts all the while reducing taxes and increasing public spending (which is already £1,200 higher per head than the rest of the UK). And let’s suppose that the banking industry and its jobs won’t go south and that people’s mortgages and pensions will be untouched – because they get to keep the Pound remember? Let’s assume that Mr Salmond’s grand plan has no gaping holes, that Scotland will have more money and be a fairer society because ultimately, none of these arguments really matter.The referendum is a question of identity, which is why it hurts so much.

Salmond would have us assume that he is fighting for the liberty of a hard done by, oppressed people. His ability to conjure hatred and division out of thin air is staggering and, like Braveheart, historical facts appear to have been forgotten. It would do little for Mr Salmond’s tale of Westminster-forged manacles to remind everyone that it was in fact a Scottish king that inherited the throne of England in 1603, that the story of political unification just over a century later 1707 was not a Goliath overpowering David tale, but an agreement that both sides entered into as equals. Scotland may once have been an independent nation but it isn’t now. England was once a Catholic monarchy – things change and they’ve changed for the better. We have introduced democracy, abolished slavery, lead global industrialisation and fought catastrophic world wars and we’ve done it together as a unified nation.

I’ve had many conversations with foreigners, Americans in particular, in which I have attempted to explain the makeup of the United Kingdom. I recently came up with an analogy that we are like a cycling peloton – each country an individual working together as a stronger pack. Yet if Scotland left, we could not just continue riding as if nothing had happened. This isn’t just about Scotland vs. Westminster as the debate has been played out. If there is a Yes vote everything will change for the English, Welsh and Northern Irish, specifically that we may revert to viewing ourselves as those three separate entities, rather than British.

The British and English flags. Photo Cred: CC Wikipedia

The British and English flags. Photo Cred: CC Wikipedia

“So are you English or British?” the confused American asks. I answer the latter because I know what it means to be British. When I think of Englishness I think of cream-clad cricketers on village green, pots of tea and punting somewhere in Oxfordshire. It’s idyllic but it doesn’t fully encompass my sense of national identity; it’s limited. When I think of Brits I do think of the cricketers, but I also think of my Grandma from Yorkshire, my university friend from Edinburgh and my Godfather living Swansea. I think of the Turkish man who runs my local offy, the football-mad Algerians across the road, the friendly Greek restaurant owner who never seems to have any customers, and my good friend who recently invited me to her Pakistani wedding.

The face of Britain has changed a lot over the last few centuries because we have embraced and included every culture into our own. We are known and admired for this multiculturalism, since when did that not include the Scottish culture? It is that unified attitude that has enabled us to continue punching above our weight in the world for so long. It is why I am proud so explain to baffled Americans that I may live in England, but I am British because to be so is limitless. Britain encompasses the best of every society and nationality with the Irish, Welsh, English, and Scottish at its core. The UK is by no means perfect. Rifts exist over just how multicultural we are as a nation and I fully support more devolved power, not just to the Celtic nations but also to regions across the UK. As a union we benefit from the pooled resources, but it comes as a package with the negatives that the individual countries should either take or leave. Cherry picking the established currency, monarch, global status and credit rating is not independence; it’s confused and cowardly.

The level of political engagement and public interest in this referendum is record breaking because this is about more than just politics. I know I cannot be alone in my frustration that my personal sense of cultural and national identity is being challenged and there is nothing I can do about it. It hurts that this challenge is coming from a place I considered part of my home but the tragedy is that if they do vote Yes, Scots and Brits will not part as friends – a situation entirely created by one man’s impeccable ability to mix fact and fantasy.

As a Brit, I can’t ignore this any more

I went to my first demonstration last weekend. As the biggest turnout yet in protest of the Gaza conflict, it was quite an introduction. I’d never considered myself the protesting type, and have never really given much thought to what attending one would be like. I heard several passers-by explain to their inquisitive children that the reason there were so many police present was because we could get violent. This was based on nothing, just an assumption. The overwhelming impression I came away with was one of unity and support. Such stereotyping, presumption and ignorance have characterised my experience of the Gaza conflict so far – my own knowledge of it included. In the last few weeks I’ve learnt a lot about Gaza, namely that I know very little. 

I’ve grown up hearing the phrases “Gaza conflict”, “fighting on the West Bank”, and “Palestinian rocket fire” in the background. The bulletins have been so regular that the story has become pedestrian, like coverage of Boxing Day sales, January floods and March heat waves; it’s seasonal. Just like those stories, its importance has washed over me.

But now I’m listening.

It has slowly dawned on me that what has been casually broadcast in the background as I go about my daily life is not just another distant conflict between people unrelated to me in a land irrelevant to me, it is a black mark in our generation that future history lessons will reflect on, asking how and why it was allowed to happen. 

Some kids I met at the Protest in Hyde Park

Some kids I met at the Protest in Hyde Park

As a historian I have learnt about great atrocities committed against humanity. But it never occurred to me that such barbarism and insanity could extend to my lifetime and that countries I thought championed liberty, freedom, and justice could do so little.

I couldn’t possibly pretend to know anything more than the basics about the conflict. But here’s what I do know. I know that roughly eight Palestinians to every one Israeli have been killed since 2000. I know that “Palestinian rockets” are not the cause or crux of this issue. And I know that any solution to this state of affairs will be like trying to make eggs out of an omelette.

In most conflicts, there is right and wrong, reason and motive on both sides. Bombing civilian areas, from whichever direction, is inexcusable. But Israel has AH-64 Apache helicopters, F-15 fighter jets, Delilah missiles and Jericho II missiles (not to mention nuclear bombs). Palestine has a few rockets that are rendered almost useless by Israel’s Iron Dome. That doesn’t seem like a war; it seems like obliteration.

You may argue that this is a Middle Eastern problem that Western intervention will only make worse but this is a problem that Britain helped make. This conflict dates back to 1947 when, in the wake of the atrocities committed against Jews during WWII, the United Nations partitioned Palestine into an Arab state, a Jewish state and the City of Jerusalem. The very next day the area was swept by a violence that, to this day, has not been settled, making Britain inextricably linked with this mess and inexcusably guilty of its consequences. It’s highly disturbing that, like me, so many British citizens are clueless of the chaos my country has helped cause.

There has been plenty of criticism about media coverage of the crisis, not all of which I agree with. As both a historian and journalist, I understand the need to fully explain the context surrounding current events but I am also pragmatic about the reality of covering the conflict in a two-minute news package. It may be the media’s duty to report without bias but, more importantly, it is our duty as individuals to learn the full story – from both sides and with all the facts. Peace will never be achieved until the rationales behind it are fully understood, not blindly accepted as just another war in a foreign land.

Although I am forming my opinions, I do not know enough to sit here and tell anyone to support one side; I cannot be the judge as to who is right or wrong. But I can acknowledge the part I play as a British citizen in this problem and I can take it upon myself to learn more. I started by going to this protest. As you can see from my video, it wasn’t violent, it wasn’t just a Middle Eastern issue and it isn’t going away.

Return of the Blog

Stories are keeping me up at night. Half-written metaphors, snippets of sentences and theories have teased my subconscious for too long. What was once a quiet mumble signifying the beginning of an article has evolved into shamelessly talking to myself out loud. I have begun to stand out. I am the person people look at oddly on the bus, as I cross the street, and as I browse the supermarket aisles. In North East London that’s saying something. But every time I have sat at my computer in the hope of unburdening myself with thoughts about the significance of crop tops to feminism and tomatoes to self-growth I have stepped shyly away, knowing I would need to explain my absence to those of you that have supported my writing for so long. Finally, I’ve started.

As a third-generation journalist in my family, I’m beginning to believe journalism – perhaps like many creative professions – runs in the blood. The Stewarts, and the Walshes, have straddled its various sectors for decades and I, as the latest member to catch the bug, have dabbled in both print and broadcast. In September last year my dabbling got serious as I embarked on a one-year masters course in television current affairs journalism. Since then I have spent my waking hours, camera in hand, chasing politicians for comments on pancakes, testing Valentines’ Day voodoo dolls, and furiously counting the number of female experts that appear on BBC News at Ten (shockingly few, by the way).

As with any new romance, the honeymoon period has a tendency to make one forget all else and this has been no exception. But it’s been worth it. A year spent under the scorching heat of TV studio lights and my tutors’ criticism has moulded me into a prototype of the journalist I hope to become. So I have returned to the keyboard once again, this time armed with a wealth of knowledge, a refreshed identity, and a complimentary video section. I hope it’s been worth the wait…