John Harris

Journalist & Author

Archive for May, 2021

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In big tech’s dystopia, cat videos earn millions while real artists beg for tips | John Harris

Monday, May 31st, 2021

Instead of paying musicians properly, the likes of Spotify have set up ‘donation’ buttons – thus passing the buck to fans

Just over a year ago, the music streaming giant Spotify announced a new addition to its services: an innovation called Artist Fundraising Pick, which would allow people to send musicians the online equivalent of a tip. The move came just as controversy began to snowball about the often pitiful returns from streaming, something that reached a peak in April this year, when such big-name musicians as Paul McCartney, Kate Bush and Stevie Nicks signed a letter calling on the UK government to finally get to grips with the issue.

At around the same time, there was rising speculation about the Spotify co-founder and CEO Daniel Ek – whose net worth is put at £3.3bn – leading a consortium that wanted to buy Arsenal football club. In the context of that potentially vast deal, what Spotify had launched highlighted the tendency of big business to offer its detractors and complainants mere crumbs, but there it was: an acknowledgment that many musicians needed some extra financial help, coupled with an apparent attempt to shift the onus on to their fans.

John Harris is a Guardian columnist

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Happy 80th birthday to Bob Dylan, rock’s most prescient, timeless voice | John Harris

Sunday, May 23rd, 2021

As he has aged and changed, so have his songs, but the essentials remain: honesty, wisdom and hope in the face of despair

When I first properly listened to Bob Dylan, I was 10 years old. Each Saturday, Radio 1 aired a series titled 25 Years of Rock, based on news and music spanning the years 1955 to 1979. And that week, in among archive clips of Lyndon Johnson, Harold Wilson, the Vietnam war and whatever else had happened in 1965, there was the sudden whip-crack of a snare drum followed by six minutes of music unlike anything I had ever heard: a great cascading noise, led by a voice that, as the US composer Michael Pisaro later wrote, somehow managed to be simultaneously “compassionate, tragic … vengeful, gleeful, ironic, weary, spectral, [and] haranguing”.

I soon found out that what I had experienced was Dylan’s watershed single Like a Rolling Stone, whose lyric is ostensibly addressed to some unnamed wealthy socialite as she is suddenly cut off from money and privilege. But as a matter of instinct, what I still hear in that song is a message from someone in the midst of early adulthood about how to live at that time of life. The best way to be when young, Dylan seems to insist, is restless, light on baggage, and scornful of any conventions or rules – reconciled, as Like a Rolling Stone famously puts it, to having no direction home.

John Harris is a Guardian columnist

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Could England’s future be a left-leaning south facing off against a conservative north? | John Harris

Monday, May 17th, 2021

The pandemic has accelerated the movement of people, creating clusters of like-minded, homogenous communities

London is changing, and so is the south of England. Whether recent predictions of a lasting drop in the capital’s population and emptied-out office districts will come true is still unclear. But something has definitely been happening, for the best part of a year: thanks to Covid and its disruptions, a sizeable number of people are deciding to leave the city and head elsewhere, chasing space, greenery – and, in many cases, the company of like minds.

Former Londoners, it seems, have recently set up home as far afield as Devon and Cornwall. Estate agents report relocations to such commuter-belt towns as Broxbourne in Hertfordshire, Reigate in Surrey and Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire. At the same time, people seem to be pitching up in and around places associated with a liberal, remain-ish view of the world: Oxford, Brighton, Bath, the more affluent parts of Bristol. In Frome, the Somerset town where I have lived since 2009 and which is now a byword for a broadly Green political outlook and a trailblazing town council, you can hear the endless crashes and clunks of house renovations ordered by new arrivals from the Big Smoke.

Related: That wasn’t quite the resounding Conservative election victory it seemed | Martin Kettle

John Harris is a Guardian columnist

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Guardian Live presents a celebration of Manchester

Wednesday, May 12th, 2021

Catch up on this Guardian Live online event, livestreamed on 11 May, at which John Harris talked to the Guardian’s editor-in-chief, Katharine Viner, the mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, the Charlatans frontman, Tim Burgess, and others about Manchester’s radical history, the suffragettes, Peterloo and the best Mancunians to invite to dinner. Guardian Live is celebrating the Guardian’s 200th birthday with a digital festival featuring today’s leading thinkers, activists, artists and politicians.

Join our specially curated programme of online conversations from wherever you are in the world. See the full lineup here and sign up to our newsletter for more announcements

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Can Labour survive Britain’s political realignment? – podcast

Wednesday, May 12th, 2021

After another set of disappointing election results, columnist John Harris asks if Labour can ever reconnect with voters in its former heartlands, where support is increasingly swinging to the Conservatives

Last week’s local elections were the first serious electoral test for the Labour leader, Keir Starmer, whose first year in the job has been dominated by Covid-19. It did not go well. On Friday morning the news came through from Hartlepool that Labour had been beaten into second place by the Conservatives in the hotly contested byelection. And the party had also lost a clutch of council seats in its former heartlands in the north of England and the Midlands. There were gains in key mayoral contests and in Wales but the overall picture was one of a party failing to make the gains necessary to put pressure on a Conservative party in power for more than a decade.

Guardian columnist John Harris tells Anushka Asthana that there are no easy answers for Labour. It must now do the hard work of reconnecting with lost voters in places such as Hartlepool. If it doesn’t, the party could be out of power for a generation.

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