John Harris

Journalist & Author

Archive for June, 2015

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At good old Glastonbury the new politics finds a home | John Harris

Sunday, June 28th, 2015

Inspired by the likes of Podemos, young politically savvy punters keep the festival true to its radical roots

At 10am on Saturday, I tweeted the details of that day’s debates at the Glastonbury festival’s Left Field: an event titled Feminism Without Borders and another discussion, described in the running order as New Frontiers!, featuring campaigners against fracking, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (also known as the TTIP) and the war being waged on working-class London in the name of property development. Quick as a flash, there was one withering reply: “I thought people went to Glastonbury to get away from that stuff.”

When writing about this festival, you inevitably have to push through a great force-field of received opinion. Quiet apart from the idea of “Glasto” as some ephemeral, hedonistic bunfight, there are all those arguments about what has happened to its spirit over the past 10 or 15 years, usually phrased in the form of sneers. The festival has changed, but then so has the world. Walking around its seemingly infinite expanse and comparing it to the event I first attended, in 1990 – the last year before the organisers let the police in, when one could freely buy breakfast from a hash-cake salesman before meeting friends who had got in for nothing – feels like contrasting very different versions of the same thing. But so does comparing the Britain of now with the country that was about to say goodbye to Margaret Thatcher. Most worthwhile elements of our culture grow and develop, occasionally in ways some people do not like.

At the most packed sessions, the thought sprang to mind: here was a political tribe cohering right in front of us

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End of the party: how police and councils are calling time on Britain’s nightlife

Saturday, June 27th, 2015

From London’s Vibe Bar to the Arches in Glasgow, some of the UK’s most popular bars and clubs are closing in the face of ever-more stringent licensing rules – but the entrepreneurs behind them won’t go down without a fight

“It started two years ago. We’d been in business two decades, working with planners, licensing authorities, and the police. But then all these weird things started happening.”

Alan Miller, a 44-year-old serial entrepreneur and devoted lover of London, is sitting in the Blues Kitchen, a luxurious deep south-themed bar and restaurant in Shoreditch. Around us, people are starting to congregate in readiness for a night out, and the early-evening air is abuzz with the sense of quiet excitement that tends to arrive in British cities in the summer. In the surrounding streets, gaggles of people are drinking outside, and viewed from a certain angle, the scene might look idyllic: proof, perhaps, that the UK is at last embracing the continental ways that have long been said to be beyond our national grasp.

Related: Fabric nightclub holds on to licence – but must pay for sniffer dogs

Related: Council restrictions are killing UK’s nightlife, say club owners

Related: The Arches in Glasgow is the Hampden Park of nightclubs – shut it and Scottish arts will suffer

Related: Club culture: a guide to Manchester’s nightlife – by Krystal Klear

Related: Sniffer dogs and breath tests put the squeeze on London club culture

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Musicians and writers choose their favourite book about music

Saturday, June 27th, 2015

Elvis as a young man, the size of Mick Jagger’s genitalia, Kristin Hersh’s miracle year, Berlioz in love … As festivalgoers crowd the stages at Glastonbury, Brian Eno, Beck, Lavinia Greenlaw, James Wood and a host of other stars select their favourite books about rock, pop, jazz and classical

Without resorting to cliche, Lipstick Traces is the band’s Holy Bible; our cultural equivalent of the Good Book

Keith Richards is a rock’n'roll lifer who never sold his soul except perhaps to the devil that haunted Robert Johnson

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Original Rockers by Richard King review – Massive Attack and the Bristol music scene

Saturday, June 20th, 2015

The stories of the city’s musicians are tangled up with the rise and fall of Revolver, the record shop in the Clifton neighbourhood to which this book pays tribute

In 1933, JB Priestley arrived in Bristol, chiefly aware that it was “somewhere in size between Leeds and Bradford”, and expecting “the usual vast dingy dormitory”. In English Journey, he rhapsodises about the very different urban expanse he found: “a genuine city, an ancient metropolis. And as you walk about in it, you can wonder and admire. The place has an air.” He was impressed by a modern prosperity built on tobacco, chocolate, “and soap and clothes and a hundred other things”; and assets that were less tangible: “the place has dignity … It has kept its civic pride. It rejoices in its independence.”

Thanks to the Luftwaffe, much of the built environment he beheld was soon altered beyond recognition. A dozen or so years later, immigration from the Commonwealth began to radically change the city’s population and newly enrich its culture. But even now, you can spend time in southern England’s second largest city and sample the same essential qualities Priestley divined all those years ago: amid the weight of history there’s a sense of confidence, and a maverick sensibility at least partly rooted in nonconformist Christianity (the world’s oldest Methodist chapel is still there, hiding behind the brutalist facades of the Broadmead shopping centre).

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Further education provides a lifeline. But try telling the government that | John Harris

Friday, June 19th, 2015

The gilded cage of Westminster appears to regard FE colleges and the skills they offer as irrelevant. To cut would be both destructive and counterproductive

Conservatives must currently be thrilled with the state of the English education debate. The fact that tuition fees were such a prominent part of the Labour platform back in May seems to have quietened that issue, and with it, grave concerns about the huge cultural and professional changes sweeping through higher education. For all the opposition to academies and free schools, the election result has re-energised the Tories’ great crusade on that front, and, it seems, wrong-footed Labour anew. When it comes to cuts, meanwhile, the mainstream media reaches for its collective notepad, hears the usual reassurances that the schools budget is protected, and then backs off.

Meanwhile, two huge stories bubble away. One is the crisis in state sixth-form education, which falls outside the department for education’s five-to-15 “ringfence” – and which, contrary to all that chatter about the glories of academic achievement, is really struggling. School sixth-forms are having increasing problems meeting curriculum requirements, but the gravest problems are faced by England’s 93 sixth-form colleges – some of which had lost around a third of their funding by the end of the last parliament, as well as being clobbered by the abolition of the educational maintenance allowance. Now they fear even worse cuts to come.

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