Posts By Raymond Deane


Hardship never lasts forever…

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In 2006 I concluded my review of Reem Kelani’s debut album Sprinting Gazelle with the phrase “I believe it’s a masterpiece.” That belief has subsequently matured into a certainty, and the disc has become one of my favourite albums in any genre. A full decade later Kelani‘s follow-up album Live at the Tabernacle, on Leon Rosselson’s Fuse label, could easily have proved an anti-climax. Instead, it complements its predecessor admirably while also being a masterpiece on its own terms.

Kelani refers in the album booklet to “live concerts” as “the essence of what my musical journey is all about”. This journey has hitherto also entailed composing, teaching, musicology, and performing in works by classical western composers with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, so it is hardly surprising – if frustrating for her growing legion of fans – that she regards recording as something of a sideshow.

The performance recorded here took place at the 2012 Nour Festival of Arts in London (the Tabernacle, Notting Hill), and the double-album eventually materialised thanks to a Kickstarter campaign of which Kelani says: “In an age in which music is structured according to the laws of the market place, and political narratives are suppressed, nothing is more comforting and assuring than grassroots support which can be neither bought nor sold.”

Concerning Sprinting Gazelle, I wrote that Kelani “shuns political rhetoric, preferring to allow the music to speak for itself”. This is as true of the Palestinian material on the new album as it is of Kelani’s comments both on stage and in the excellent booklet accompanying the recording (I really recommend buying the hard copy, as the whole thing is so beautifully produced). Of course Kelani is hardly apolitical. She is a member of the Anti Capitalist Roadshow, a “collective of singers and songwriters… opposed to the ideologically driven austerity programme imposed by this [UK] millionaire government”. Some of the material on the second Tabernacle disc relates overtly to the 1919 Egyptian revolution and the 2011 Tunisian revolution. However, she seems content to allow Palestine’s interminable trauma the status of an implicit if unmistakeable backdrop.

So has a political narrative been suppressed here after all? An informative and sympathetic Guardian interview from 2008 clarified that Kelani “initially struggled to get a record contract here [the UK] because of her [Palestinian] subject matter.” She admits that on the cover of Sprinting Gazelle “I was very careful…I did not say ‘from Palestine’. I said ‘from the motherland’. I’m walking on eggshells all the time.” Nonetheless, she asserted that “[t]here is a message that Palestinians don’t exist, so my narrative is… my existence, both personally and collectively … As a human being, as a woman, as a Palestinian.”

By now Reem Kelani’s existence and hence her narrative is so firmly established that she could probably afford to kick aside the eggshells, although admittedly the defamatory energies of the Israel lobby are inexhaustible. In the CD booklet Alan Kirwan, curator of the Nour Festival in 2012, writes that “[a]t the heart of her work is the recurring image of Palestine”, and the album’s epigraph – cited in English and Arabic – is a defiant quatrain from the jubilant traditional Palestinian song Il-Hamdillah:

                                                Praise God, that evil is no more

                                                We planted peppers in the heat

                                                Our foes said they wouldn’t turn red

                                                Praise God, our peppers grew and turned red.

This song, which euphorically closes both this album and Sprinting Gazelle, contains lyrics “collected… from field recordings of Palestinian refugee women in Lebanon and Jordan”. The  opening track on Disc I, Let us in! (Hawwilouna!), was “recorded from a group of Palestinian refugee women, originally from the village of Sha’ab near Acre” (in present-day Israel).

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Where are the Barricades?

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Five years after his 4-CD compendium The World Turned Upside Down – Rosselsongs 1960-2010  the radical English singer/songwriter Leon Rosselson has released a new album, Where are the Barricades? Rosselson turned 80 in 2014, so his announcement that “after some sixty years of songwriting… this is my final recording” is hardly shocking, but will nonetheless distress those for whom his consistent advocacy of social change and support for the underdog has long been an inspiration.

Rosselson, the son of communist Jewish immigrants to Britain, made his name contributing satirical songs to the classic 1960s BBC TV show That Was The Week That Was, and he has never abandoned a very English form of political satire. Indeed some more po-faced purists may well be aggrieved by the sheer frivolity of the first song on the album (the earliest version of which dates back to 1986):

                         Full Marks for Charlie.

                        He’s the bugbear of the bosses.

                        Workers of the world unite!

                        Charlie Marx is dynamite.

In fact the transmission of serious political comment through the medium of cheek, conveyed in a voice that in an earlier review I described as possessing a “vaguely Monty Pythonish quality (Eric Idle comes to mind!)”, is so characteristic of Rosselson that the listener’s response to his music may depend on her/his tolerance of the combination. To which I must add a further comment from that review: “When Rosselson sings, the vocal idiosyncrasies are inseparable from his intractable and endearing integrity.”

The satirical mode is conspicuous in Looters (“You smash up the shops and you get free stuff/ It’s all about the money nowadays…innit?”), Benefits (“Come all you skivers, welfare cheats...”), and the title song, Where are the Barricades? (here making its fourth recorded appearance) which effortlessly manages a direct quotation from the Communist Manifesto:

            See how the bubbles are bursting

            ‘All that’s solid melts into air’

            The stairs are beginning to rattle

            And the rats are beginning to stare.

However, Rosselson’s range is wider than this. While he has admitted to avoiding love-songs (“love, a word that has rarely passed my songwriting pen”), he has instead composed what he calls “relationship songs” entailing “a sideways look at love, sex, marriage, relationships and angst…” Active Ageing is a comical example of this, while Marital Diaries are bitter-sweet slices of married life spoken by Rosselson and Liz (Elizabeth) Mansfield. To the latter (minus Rosselson) is assigned Paris in the Rain, an “attempt at an English French-style chanson”, beautifully accompanied on piano by Fiz Shapur. Fair’s Fair, originally written for Roy Bailey (who participates in a couple of songs on this album, but not this one) is a seemingly apolitical celebration of the fun of the fair, rollercoaster, dodgems and all. Four Degrees Celsius, opening and closing with a line from the fourteenth-century poem Piers Plowman (‘On a summer season when soft was the sun’), is an enigmatic allegory that may or may not evoke ecological apocalypse.

I have previously described Rosselson’s anti-Zionist Song of the Olive Tree as “perhaps his most beautiful composition”, and perhaps the most powerful song on the new album is The Ballad of Rivka & Mohammed, the note on which in the CD booklet is almost an essay on Israel’s persecution of the people of Gaza.

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Chris de Burgh Notes our Opinions – and Suppresses Them

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This article originally appeared on Raymond’s blog, The Deanery today, the 31st of March.

In 1979 Chris de Burgh chose to tour Apartheid South Africa, in violation of the boycott call from the African National Congress. In justification, he pleaded that “I’m not singing for the government… I hope to make a difference…”

It is arguable that by ignoring the boycott call from the democratic opposition to South Africa’s anti-democratic regime de Burgh was indeed “singing for the government”, and that, far from “making a difference”, he was in fact helping to reinforce the status quo more than a decade before the release of Nelson Mandela from Robben Island.

In 1984 “12 Dunnes [Stores] workers went on strike [in Dublin] for two and a half years for the right not to handle goods from Apartheid South Africa. The strikers were feted by Bishop Desmond Tutu and international human rights groups. Nelson Mandela said that their stand helped keep him going during his imprisonment.”

Almost exactly thirty years after this, Chris de Burgh announced that he would perform in Tel Aviv on 29th March 2014, ignoring the Palestinian call for a cultural boycott of the Israeli state. The Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign learned only two weeks before the event of de Burgh’s plan to cross the picket line, upon which the usual procedures were followed. A letterwas posted via his website, followed by a telephone call to his management – or, more precisely, to an anonymous answering-machine in London. Neither approach having received a reply, the letter was made public. A Facebook page was set up and supporters of Palestinian rights posted pleas on de Burgh’s own Facebook page.

At this point, things turned nasty. It would appear that defenders of the Israeli state set particular store by de Burgh’s imminent visit, perhaps bearing in mind his 1979 performance in the other Apartheid state that was Israel’s most intimate ally. Veterans of internet campaigning reported that they had never encountered such an outpouring of Zionist propaganda as flooded de Burgh’s page, replete with the usual venomous and mendacious defamation of anyone with a track record of support for Palestinian rights. Abuse ranged from “hater” and “old fart” to “anti-Semite” and “Nazi”; in my own case, hoary canards about my visits to Hong Kong and Iran and my supposedly having “intimidated a cancer victim” (the latter rebutted here) were dredged up and recycled shamelessly.

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This Green Paper should never become a White Paper

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This post was originally published today on Raymond Deane's blog The Deanery

Alan Shatter, in his capacity as Minister for Defence, has produced a Green Paper in anticipation of a “White Paper on Defence [which] will be completed early in 2014 and will set out Ireland’s Defence policy framework for the next decade.”

The Green Paper explicitly claims to “give expression to an active vision of our neutrality” (section 1) entailing “a willingness to project Irish values and priorities including the promotion and preservation of peace, disarmament, human rights, and support for humanitarian operations through the development and deployment of the Defence Forces…” However, this unexceptionable statement is followed by a less reassuring one: “Ireland’s approach to security is underlined by its engagement in EU Common Security and Defence Policy…” The Paper never comes to grips with the contradiction between “neutrality” and commitment to an “EU Common Security and Defence Policy”.

It goes without saying that the most flagrant violation of Ireland’s traditional military neutrality – the de facto delivery of Shannon Airport to the US Air Force as a transit hub for its troops flying to wars in the Middle East and elsewhere – merits not a single mention in the Green Paper; this is probably its most eloquent omission.

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Framing “The Gatekeepers”

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This was originally published on Raymond Deane’s blog, the Deanery on the 16th of May.

As everyone knows by now, The Gatekeepers is a 2012 Academy award-nominated documentary film made by the Israeli director Dror Moreh. Moreh succeeded in interviewing the last six heads of Israel’s General Security Services, better known by its Hebrew acronym Shin Bet. These gentlemen display considerable frankness about the nature of their past activities, their belated advocacy of a two-state solution to the Palestine issue and their negative views of successive Israeli governments.

It’s not my purpose here to write another review of this much talked-about but surprisingly uncontroversial film. Interesting articles, both of which discuss it in conjunction with the Israeli/Palestinian film 5 Broken Cameras, may be read here and here. Instead, I wish to reflect on some worrisome aspects of the film’s framing and reception in public discourse, and to suggest that its propagandistic effect is dependent on such framing.

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An Anarchist Noel Coward? The World Turned Upside Down – Rosselsongs 1960-2010

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Music Review: The World Turned Upside Down – Rosselsongs 1960-2010

And then the ‘political songwriter’ label can mislead into the belief that I’m writing songs in order to change the world… I have to point out that after fifty years of writing songs, the world’s in a worse state now than when I started, although I don’t blame myself entirely for that. – Leon Rosselson

Why is the English singer-songwriter Leon Rosselson, now almost eighty years old, not a “household name”?

In the entertaining, informative and argumentative liner notes accompanying this 2011 set of four CDs he repeatedly muses on how, in his own words, he “failed to become rich and famous”. Concerning the celebrated title song, World Turned Upside Down, he writes: “Some people think it’s a folk song. Or that it was written by Billy Bragg. Which is, I suppose, fame of a sort.”

Success, he tells us, “should have happened in the 1960s… There was the folk boom, the singer-songwriter boom.” At the same time, however, “my songwriting style didn’t fit comfortably into the folk bag. Or any other bag, if it comes to that.” And anyway, “the alternative culture was big business, the musicians were bought into superstardom by lucrative record contracts, …the message ‘liberate your minds’ turned out to be both politically safe and eminently saleable… The guerrillas had simply, without their even realising it, been incorporated into the regular army of the enemy.” His songs The Ugly Ones (“the fetishizing of the beautiful people”) and Flower Power = Bread (from the fateful year 1968) savaged ‘60s values, thus ensuring that Rosselson would not be thus incorporated but also, perhaps, that stardom on 1960s terms would elude him.

Another factor that may have militated against Rosselson’s popular success is the self-confessed absence of love-songs from his output (“love, a word that has rarely passed my songwriting pen”). Instead, he has specialised in what he calls “relationship songs” entailing “a sideways look at love, sex, marriage, relationships and angst…”, here represented by Do You Remember?, Invisible Married Breakfast Blues (inspired by Brel and Prévert), Let Your Hair Hang Down, and the wonderful Not Quite, But Nearly. Jacques Brel’s example taught Rosselson that “[y]ou could write songs by pretending to be someone else, by adopting a persona.” Here the feminist principle that “the personal is political, the political personal” provided the rationale, but perhaps in an age when “letting it all hang out” was the order of the day this approach was too oblique.

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A Musical Celebration of Subversion

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In 2009 the British National Party took to promoting English folk music on its website. One particularly favoured song was Steve Knightley’s Roots:

When the Indians, Asians, Afro-Celts
It's in their blood, below their belt
They're playing and dancing all night long
So what have they got right that we've got wrong?
Seed, bud, flower, fruit
They're never gonna grow without their roots
Branch, stem, shoot
They need roots…

Although Knightley was dismayed by this “betrayal” and “violation” of his “invention”, he should have realised that such imagery is in perfect harmony with the discourse of fascism. In 1934 the Nazi musicologist Fritz Stein maintained that “as long as it remained undiluted and true to its German roots, folk music was an essential means of gaining respect abroad.” Furthermore, the juxtaposition of “they” and “we” in Knightley’s verse, although purportedly privileging the “Indians, Asians, Afro-Celts [sic]”, is in fact a careless gesture of exclusion.

One consequence of the BNP’s opportunistic advocacy of English folk music was the foundation of Folk Against Fascism (FAF). Describing itself as “neither left-of-centre nor right-of-centre”, this organisation (which appears to be moribund at present) claimed to be “simply a coalition of people who care passionately about British folk culture and don’t want to see it turned into something it’s not: a marketing tool for extremist politics.”

Both of these well-meaning responses leave something to be desired, and that something has now been provided by the Anti-Capitalist Roadshow , “a collective of singers and songwriters: Frankie Armstrong, Roy Bailey, Robb Johnson, Reem Kelani, Sandra Kerr, Grace Petrie, Leon Rosselson, Janet Russell, Peggy Seeger, Jim Woodland plus one socialist magician, Ian Saville.” With no feeble nod to being “neither right nor left”, this collective claims to be “part of the resistance to a capitalism that functions only on behalf of the wealthy, that aims to shrink the public sphere and privatise public services,… and that is destructive to the planet.”

Many of the 30 tracks of the collective’s new double album, Celebrating Subversion, deal forcefully with such specifically British issues as Thatcherism, Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne’s views on “the benefits lifestyle”, the dismantling of the National Health Service, the occupation of St Paul’s, the sinking of the Titanic (as metaphor for “the practical outcomes of capitalism”), looting during the 2011 London riots, British arms exports, the Peterloo Massacre, and the suffragette Emily Davison, martyred just a century ago.

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Exploiting Wallenberg


On 12th September the Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence Alan Shatter(Fine Gael) spoke at the opening of a conference in Dublin called Man Amidst Inhumanity. This marked the centenary of the birth of Raoul…

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Acceptable Racism


Apparently the 84-year-old American novelist Cynthia Ozick is favourite to win the “Orange Prize for excellence in fiction written by women” for her novel Foreign Bodies. In an article in the UK Guardian’s series My…

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Riverdance: Dancing into the Trap

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Recently the popular Israeli internet news service Ynet published an article by Itamar Eichner called Foreign Ministry beats Israel boycotts (7 October 2011). The article tells us that ‘Pro-Palestinian groups calling for a cultural boycott…

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