Rick Nobbinson @ The Liberal Democrat Conference. Guest Blog interview.

As I’m sure you all know, it’s Liberal Democrat conference week so I’ve asked a guest to come along and help me pick at the seams of rhetoric, posturing and policy-making. Rick Nobbinson is a political analyst and has been answering my questions on all things party conference.

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Me:                        So Rick, what do you think so far?

Rick:                       Well Garry, imagine if you will, a room full of people, affiliated with a particular political party, taking turns to talk about the kind of things they might want to do in that political party, and occasionally voting on the proposals put before them… and you’ll be somewhere close to the mood, the atmosphere, and indeed the actual objective of what they have set out to do over these last few days at the Liberal Democrat conference.

Me:                        Yes, thanks for that. But specifically, has anything stood out for you yet?

Rick:                       There are many ministers and party members who don’t want to be seen to be standing on the shoulders of giants, and there is a palpable sense of that, here, in this conference. Not that they don’t actually want to stand on the shoulders of giants. Who wouldn’t want to, at least once, if relative safety could be assured, perhaps by a small body harness rigged around the giants shoulder, or some kind of Velcro overalls, stand on the shoulder of a giant? But to be seen to be doing this is something no one wants to see, or be seen, doing. Do you see?

Me:                        Not really Rick, but let’s move on. Vince Cable hinted at a fringe event last night that the coalition might not last until the next general election. What do you think he meant by that?

Rick:                       Oh yes. Vince Cable has got himself in a word knot. He’s said some words, and let’s be honest about this, we all do, and those words have appeared like floating letters from his lips, encircled him and tangled him up in a ball on the floor. He’s thrashing, he’s shouting and screaming for help, but the more he shouts, the more words come out and add to the mess, indeed the mesh, that was this speech.

Me:                        I think I see what you’re saying. You’re saying that he may have let slip something that will tangle him up in speculation and perhaps embroil the wider party and actually cause the very thing he has predicted?

Rick:                       Let me put it like this. There are people, in this country, who stand for elections and become what we call members of parliament.

Me:                         Yes I know.

Rick:                       Because they rely on people voting for them in what are called ‘elections’, they have to make speeches about what they are going to do if they were elected.

Me:                        Again, I’m well aware of that fact but what does this have to do with…?

Rick:                       Hang on – here it is. Think of a bucket, an empty bucket, and into that bucket, pour your hopes and dreams. Add a dash of social mobility, life skills, education and ambition, and you’ve got the electorate soup. These MPs are standing around the edges of this bucket, with shiny ladles, sipping at the soup and trying to identify all the little tastes so that they can replicate this in the kitchen later on when a French man comes to visit and they can hopefully progress to the next round.

Me:                        What? I’m sorry Rick but you’ve gone metaphor mad. And I’m sure there was a little bit of Masterchef in that last one.

Rick:                       Sorry.

Me:                        It’s ok, but can we just, keep on track? I know you feel you need to dumb it down, but I can assure you my readers are more than capable of understanding what you have to say in plain English. So, Nick Clegg, what is he making of all this?

Rick:                       I think the question is probably what isn’t he making of all this Garry. He isn’t making a scrapbook or a photo album with funny little captions to hand out to his friends, decorated with pictures of luxury furniture cut out of an Argos catalogue from 1988 I found under my bed last week and stuck on with a really old pritt-stick that I had to lick vigorously to restore its viscosity and adhesive properties, that’s for sure.

Me:                        But what is he making of it all Rick? Come on, you can do this. Think about it. I’m rooting for you here man, I want you to get this down. I know you really want to work for the BBC news, but you’re trying too hard. Just say it how it is, don’t dumb it down or hide behind metaphors and simile or just plain crazy talk. You can do this Rick, come on Rick, COME ON MAN! DO IT! ANALYSE THOSE POLITICS!

Rick:                       Ok, ok! Erm… I predict that Vince Cable will turn on Nick Clegg in a bid for the Liberal Democrat leadership by dividing the party and making the case for a Labour coalition in a popular move that will see long-worried party members, uneasy with propping up the Conservatives, flock to him in droves. This will force an early general election in which Cable will portray himself as the saviour of the Liberal democrat party and reject the policies and politics of the Tories and more importantly, Nick Clegg. This may salvage the reputation of the Liberals, allowing them to join with Labour and defeat the Conservatives. The Liberals have to do something or they will be as good as vanquished from the 2015 election, and they know that. The biggest problem Vince Cable is going to have is convincing people that he is the man for the job, considering he has supported so many of the unpopular Tory policies that he is now rallying against in his conference speeches. Presumably he will link this to the need for stability in the economy and having done his best to soften the harsh edges of Tory ideology. If he pulls that off, who knows, he might just do it.

Me:                        You see? You can do it can’t you?

Rick:                       Yes, I suppose.

Me:                        So what was all that stuff with the buckets and giants?

Rick:                       I get bored.

Me:                        We all get bored Rick. It doesn’t mean we have to dick about does it?

Rick:                       No, I suppose not.

Me:                        Right, well, you get yourself back to that conference and get reporting eh?

Rick:                       Ok. (sniffs)

Me:                        Don’t cry. Come on. You’ve done a good job today haven’t you? Yes you have. And just think of all the free food and drink there will be back at the conference.

Rick:                       Buffet?

Me:                        You bet! You like buffet’s don’t you?

Rick:                       Chicken balls.

Me:                        Yeah. Chicken balls. Go on then. Thanks again Rick. Bye.

– Well there we have it ladies and gentlemen. It took some teasing out like an octopus from a dark recess in a Cypriot rock-pool, but we got there in the end.

More about Rick Nobbinson:

Rick is a disturbed man. Really disturbed. You can’t buy his book, he doesn’t have one. He wants to work for the BBC and to that ends he spends a lot of his time trying to blag his way into the news room, usually by carrying a brown box with the word ‘news’ written on it and trying to convince them that he is a courier who is bringing a box of urgent ‘news’. Once he was allowed access and when the box was opened, it wasn’t news, not unless news is organic matter from questionable origins. If you would like to hear more from Rick, he can usually be found crying over the Andrew Marr show in the window of Comet on Bridlington high street most Sundays, at least for a little while, until he is once again discovered and ejected. You may be wondering why I asked him along given such dubious credentials. Compassion? Mockery? No. None of these. Cold, hard cash. I don’t know why it was so cold, and it would have been nice to have been paid in notes rather than coins, but that’s why. If anyone else would like to guest blog, please throw at least £50 worth of frozen coinage through the third window from the left of the old shoe factory in Taunton Meadow Industrial Park (south-side). Please include a business card. I will be in touch. Thanks. 

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Mosaic.

Today my band ‘Gravity Dave’ have made available an early mix of one of our original songs, ‘Mosaic’.

Now, I can sit here and tell you why you should listen to it, that it ‘rocks’ and suchlike (it does), but that’s not really what I’ve got this blog for.

So instead, I’m going to use this particular chunk of cyber space to look at the lyrics, do a bit of a self-critique and explanation of the process by which I get lyrics together. Of course this changes from song to song, but some elements remain constant throughout the process.

This may seem a little self-indulgent, but we all listen to and absorb song lyrics every day without giving them too much thought (unless they are particularly strong or controversial) and I would wager that a whole host of music lovers wouldn’t give much heed to poetry while still being able to recite the words to hundreds of their favourite songs. So today is an exploration of the lyric. And to top it all, you can listen to the song afterwards, if you like.

Ever remember school assemblies where the teacher would take the Lord’s Prayer line by line, examining the nuance and meaning of each word? Well, we did, every term. It was interesting (the first time around) and stopped it being a drone of syllables we all strung together in a lazy drawl every morning. Whatever your beliefs, whatever text you are studying are hearing, conscious awareness of the moment, the content and the context is much better than an apathetic wave of indistinct noises passing through you, passing by you.

Funnily enough, that scene, sitting cross-legged in a cold school hall, listening and learning, putting your hand up to be spoken to, taking it all in, forms the basis of ‘Mosaic’, as you can see in the first verse:

Dusty floors, cross legged and cold. Rusted doors, criss-cross windows. You clap and fall down.

                The ‘criss-cross’ windows are those safety glass door windows you get in public places, schools, hospitals and such like, where within the glass pane there is a black metal grid. Clapping and falling down, well, as I remember, there used to be several games like that.

Raise your hand, and comply. Understand, we’re all trying to not let you down my friends.

                Here we start to get the theme of the piece. This song started as an idea about conformity, the lack of critical thinking, the architects of our personalities from cradle to grave, concentrating on the most malleable time of our lives, school. In this case, primary school. Now I’m not saying I had a bad time at primary school, I didn’t, but I want to contrast the very ‘English’ Methodist school upbringing I had against the anxiety I often feel now, the world being as it is. It may have been okay for me, but education was very rigid, very set-in-its-ways, very, well English, I’ll say again.

On a technical note, when you hear the song, you’ll hear that the word ‘trying’ both forms the end of the line and the start of the next, split in half by the syllable’s. I like doing this, it’s fun.

So that’s the first verse. I’ve built on the theme I have in mind with the imagery of my school days. Onto the chorus.

We’d never say it but you are Mosaic, please stand far way and you’ll get the full picture.

                Now we get the first mention of the title, Mosaic. If memory serves me well, this was a natural progression from the preceding ‘we’d never say it’. It’s cool when you can get one word to rhyme with two or more others. Of course ‘say-it’ and ‘Mosaic’ are not true rhymes, rhyming as they do on the vowel sounds of the ‘a’ and ‘i’, but  it’s not tenuous and passes by the ear well I think.

Once I found the word ‘Mosaic’ (a great word, don’t you think?), the rest of the chorus can start to be constructed around it. Obviously, standing away to get the full picture is a feature of mosaic’s – close up they are just a senseless amalgam of shapes and colours.

We’d never risk it a broken statistic, we’ll stick to the past and the pain and the scripture.

You may have noticed that the voice changes in this section too. I’m now speaking as ‘the man’, as it were (such a hippy). This is not to blame anyone specifically, but our education system was provided to us at the whim and prudence of the wealthy and utilitarian. Although there are some great people doing great things to recognise and nurture individuality and critical reasoning, it is hardly the main aim of the system. No, let’s face it, the main aim of the system is to compartmentalise us into an economic unit and classification to enable statistics to be drawn and activities planned on a global scale. That’s just the truth of it, not even hidden. Now more than ever our kids are being ear-marked for their future demographic from the moment they walk into school. That’s why ‘we’d never say’ that you are a complex picture of many aspects, and not ‘risk’ producing a broken statistic (one that breaks out of the prescribed parameters), and we will stick to traditional teaching. The use of the word scripture here is just to reflect the lack of choice we had in our spiritual/religious teachings at school (or exploration of the alternatives). The ‘pain’ is a lyrical liberty, but can mean the net-effect of all these considerations.

We’re trying to reach you, to reach you, to reach you… etc..

This is the hook line of the chorus that I ‘ramp up’ from a chant to a high-scream! It is a mantra of education I think, I hear it a lot in interviews with various ministers. Simultaneously trying to ‘reach’ through and connect with the individual while trying to fit them into a starched curriculum. Onto verse two.

                Afternoon’s, bruised knees and fights, silver spoons, stay out of sight from playground kings.

Break-time! Everyone loved break-time right? Unless you were being bullied or what-not, and then it was shit. I went through patches of this. It’s not nice. When I moved to Stoke with my family aged 9, my accent was different. I was sometimes accused of being ‘posh’, which was funny seeing as I had moved further South from Scarborough, my parents were originally from Middleborough and Essex and from a ‘proper’ working class background. But kids are kids. This is just a hark back to the ‘rule of the playground’ where the kids who liked to taunt and bully roamed free, and the rest of us just tried to get on with it. Thankfully, the vast majority of us.

Broken bones, shattered by words, sticks & stones, don’t even hurt, don’t even sting, here comes the break…

Having said all that about ‘kids will be kids’, I’m sure some of you experienced the old ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me’ line when trying to tell an adult about some nasty piece of work giving you a hard time? I always thought it was a cop-out, I think I still do. Words are one of, if not the, most powerful weapon in our arsenal. They may not have the immediacy of weapons, but without them, there would be no weapons. I can hardly see us grunting our way to the discovery of combustion and ballistics. Language, words, as has been well described before by much greater minds than mine, just chip, chip away, constantly being  rearranged, altered, strung together and stored. Surges of meaning and revelation build over centuries, generations, and sometimes can spark in a moment and change everything. If you think that words can’t hurt, you are not giving them the reverence and respect they deserve. As for the ending line, that’s a little joke, it is both the ‘break’ of bones, and literally signalling the ‘break’ before the chorus.

Which brings us back to the chorus that in true rock/pop style, is a repeat of the first without deviation. This leads nicely into a musical outro that strips back the themes from the song and then builds them back up again into a climactic progression, underpinned by our drummers excellent tribal tom-tom backing.

Well, I enjoyed delving into that. Of course, when I wrote these words, I didn’t sit here and think of all this for each line. Generally, I start with either the theme or an interesting combination of words and then build it up from a mixture of ad-libbing at practice and good old graft with the pen and paper. My words are almost always led by rhyme, set within a context. That’s the challenge. Trying to find a word that fits without distorting the theme. On other occasions the song may be totally led by the sound of the words, purely for aural-aesthetic purposes. This leads to lyrics akin to Lennon’s ‘I am the Walrus’ and ‘Come together’. They are celebrations of words, loosely held together, but more for their own sake. I like this but you can’t do it all the time, not if you want to convey any coherent association of ideas at least occasionally in your art-form. It would be like only ever writing stream-of-conscious monologues forever, which although fun, lack poignancy and depth.

If you read this and enjoyed it, please, please take a listen to the track which all being well, should be posted below here. I am lucky to have such a talented group of guys working on these songs to set my words to. Musically I love this piece but am only responsible for the melody, my guitar parts and maybe the chords of the chorus… (can’t remember right now!) I could write a whole other blog on the musical construct of this song, but maybe I’ll save that for another piece, another time. Also, if you like it, give us a ‘like’ on Facebook (linked below) & reverbnation, there are plenty more songs coming and we gig regularly. Thank you.

Listen here:

http://www.reverbnation.com/gravitydave/song/18135122-mosaic-studio-demo

Like us here:

www.facebook.com/gravitydave