EDI RAMA

When I was last in Tirana, I tried to make a record of the buildings coloured in what appears to be Dazzle Camouflage by their Mayor, Edi Rama, elected at 36 in 2000. Since 2013, he has been the Socialist Prime Minister and now I believe is taking advice from Alistair Campbell as he seeks re-election and entry to Europe.

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The picture below showing the Mayor’s offices was finished a few weeks’ later as I was recovering from a botched Appendectomy in Oxford. I stepped off the plane from Tirana complaining of food-poisoning by BA. Instead, my appendix burst and I had to deal with peritonitis. I went back a couple of times after this I think and there should soon be enough sketches to complete our EDWARD LEAR film about a journey from Istanbul to Albania in 1848. The film will copmpare the views Lear drew with the smae views drawn over the last 15 years. The views of the various sketches will be interrupted by musical numbers based on Lear’s poems and set by David Watson in a style that should recapture the spirit of the 19th Century music hall. Throughout the film, an animated Edward Lear will deliver some sort of commentary… I hope this will end up as the very first fully-animated documentary.

One of the first things Edi Rama did as mayor was to restore the Ethem Bey Mosque which can be glimpsed here. Lear drew at least two views of the Mosque, then surrounded by trees.

Tirana-Skanderbeg square and etham Bey by TIM

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Standing against racism and prejudice

The Labour MP, Mary Creagh, is quite right to say we should be standing up to racism and prejudice wherever we find it. I entirely agree with her. What she is wrong to do is to imply that this stand is something particularly of the left, or is the preserve of Labour and she cheapens her call by throwing in concerns about the NHS and schooling. She comes out with a strange line, “immigration has become the proxy for a failure to fund public service and a failure to give people a pay rise.” She then says “politicians have a responsibility not to inflame the rhetoric.” I do not know, therefore, what she thinks she is doing with all her own rhetoric but her criticism of UKIP which should have been the main point of her message somehow, as a result, comes across as an afterthought. She is absolutely well-within her rights to point a finger of blame at UKIP’s immigration chief (an oxymoron if ever one could be imagined), John Bickley who said apparently, “if you want a Jehadi for a neighbour, vote labour in the Stoke on Trent by-election”. Outrageous! And- well- Bickley is just wrong, and if the exposure of Paul Nuttall’s repeated indiscretions might once have enlisted sympathy, I trust with the sort of nastiness implicit in Bickley’s alleged advice, it will do so no longer. If he wants to salvage this election, Nuttall must silence Bickley and distance himself publicly from these views, because this is one of those failings that he cannot blame on an assistant. And even if, God forbid, he succeeded in his bid to be elected in Stoke, he will forever be tainted with racism. Bickley’s saying confirms UKIP’s racism.

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So, maybe it is time to call it a day. UKIP achieved what it wanted in the referendum and its rebranding under Nuttall shows itself to be abhorrent and wrong. It is time for right-thinking UKIPers to jump ship. Nothing good can come of Nuttall now.

There have been many calls among Conservatives to stand up against racism and prejudice. The conservatives, after all, are the party that has given us not one but two women leaders, the party that pushed through gay-marriage legislation. And I think we have come along way since Andrew Lansley said there was “endemic racism” in the party. I think, incidentally, that he was wrong then, but I know he would be wrong now.

UKIP and arguably the referendum process has certainly unleashed a wave of racism, and has opened up the immigration debate, but I hope that does not mean Conservatives promote or encourage racism and prejudice. I believe we shall find ways to combat this madness.

Sajid Javid, for instance, rather brilliantly spoke of the necessity to eradicate “oblique” prejudice- he urged “every decent Briton of any faith or none to join us all in the battle against extremism and anti-Semitism… the Holocaust did not begin in the gas chambers of Auschwitz and Treblinka. Indiscrimate killing is simply where hatred, left unchecked, reaches its tragic conclusion.”And it was another Conservative, baroness Sayeeda Warsi who despaired that Islamophobia was becoming “socially acceptable.” To recognise a trend is not to endorse it. Indeed, to recognise that we have a problem is the first step we must take together towards solving it!

It is the Labour party that had a recent anti-semitic problem, not the conservatives. It is Corbyn who has attended events with Holocaust deniers. What we have seen is the growth of an “anti-racist” credo which is not the same as nurturing inclusion and tolerance. Rather than positive reinforcement, it provides yet another group for the mob to attack and by lumping things together, it tends to soften the impact of what Bickley has said.

Let’s just repeat it again, because I have said it before in previous posts: UKIP’s current leaders promote racism. It is clear. It is documented and it is wrong.

Liz Smith

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So sorry to hear of the death of Liz Smith, a wonderful actress with an improbable and hilarious range. Maybe the only person ever to upstage Maggie Smith with the wonderful pig slapstick in “A private function”.

The Garage is empty

Just as the Prime Minister promises a new future, the past turns up like a soiled doily, that simply refuses to flush away.

Farage returns as a tired revamp of Dracula AD 72, proving as last time that there is no trusting this man whether he promises to resign or not. Is this “Farage the sequel”,”Farage returns”, “Farage 3” or “Farage forever”? No, after Brighton, this is a man whose tag is, “just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water”! And the Farage mouth is again snapping at the anchorman. With this one difference- this is Farage without teeth. He sums up, as ever, the fate of his party.

The toothless, wizened, tired spectre of Farage. The empty shall of a wide-mouthed man. The garage with the door ajar and the sprightly jag gone.

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For me, one of the entertaining aspects of the story is to see Paul Oakden, a man I knew as Farage’s henchman, lording it over the media as the UKIP chairman, desperate to square the circle that is Diane James. Oakden, once physically a pale reflection of Paul Nuttall, has embraced stubble above and below the hairline but he remains the same Oakden. What a long way he has come in such a short time! Only just 18 months ago, he was the man delegated to silence me. He was the man making promises on behalf of his leader that neither he nor Farage have so far honoured. I have long since given up hope that either will keep their word, and I fear I am not the only one.

Has no one told Farage about the boy who cried wolf? Resignation is a card you can play once. It is not a game of snap!

Thank God, then for Boris, who may not now lead the Conservatives, but who certainly put a spoke in the UKIP wheel and left it immobilised. It is a bike with a broken wheel, and today, without a viable saddle. Today, we see one more tumble in the slow-motion crash that has been Boris’s masterstroke! Boris took on the mantle of Farage: He might have feared it was poisoned and that like some Herculean hero, he would go down fighting, but he took that risk and went down in style, eclipsing Farage in every way. I think history will be kind to Boris, because after the current aborted resurrection, Farage, barely human, even after exposing himself in Brighton, leads a pitiful ghost of a party, with little aim, precious value and a heightened reputation for thuggishness and deceit at the highest level.

I joined UKIP because I feared a party led by Farage was one of the biggest dangers to the UK today and I could not sit idly by. I also felt that some of its aims were laudable enough, particularly its fondness for Grammar schools, though I have always been less comfortable with Brexit itself, but the die is now cast. Today, however, we celebrate the collapse of the party that set Brexit in motion. Who wants to lead this mess? Certainly not Diane James. And it is clear the party does not want Suzanne Evans, dumped unceremoniously last year; Stephen Woolfe was tricked out of the ballot only this year and the only sitting MP, a man of great principle, despite his ditching the party that made him electable in the first place, Douglas Carswell is himself as itchy as poisoned ivy. At their conference, fellow UKIPpers kept a safe distance even when he promised loyalty to the new leader. That did not last long! It is only when everyone doubts your allegiance that anyone ever expects you to pledge it.

So, while I might bemoan the loss of her majesty’s loyal opposition in the nonsense peddled by Mr Corbyn and his cronies, there is only one word that comes to mind about UKIP and it is Thatcher’s: “Rejoice!“ Simply rejoice!

 

 

Trial by Jury backgrounds

In animation, things move very slowly. Here are some background designs for the Gilbert and Sullivan project. I hope to have coloured versions by the time I return from a month lecturing in Moscow!

I was optimistic!

DECEMBER update:

(My “month” in Moscow was lingering and I returned properly at the end of December. I will post something later about the Russian Ministry of Education and the chaos in MPGU that both preceded and has followed their sudden intervention.)

I would like to see versions of “Trial by Jury “in intelligent translations. This is an opera about corruption, legal absurdity and the devaluation, or even a redefinition of marriage. It is certainly, therefore, a story relevant today in many countries. Gilbert wrote the piece within months of a major streamlining of the legal system. It is as if he were observing that, even with the best will in the world, a system that is so entrenched in corruption will not be cleaned up overnight!

 

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https://animate-tim.com/2016/06/22/trial-by-jury/

juststeve interview

“I’m happy as a pig in mud”

Q. So, why “juststeve”? What is wrong with Steven Kokkas, your real name?

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Nothing, I love my real name, I am proud of my family & given name. Basically, I am just fooling around, having a blast. YOLO! [ you only live once ] Life is too short but even if it were long, I am allowed to fool around. If politicians can fool around so can an artist.”

Q.  Yes but there are also other very big changes mainly in your music. In two years you went from Pop rock where your songs were available on iTunes with a Greek record label and now you are producing swing music that 90% of the people don’t really care about and you have started your own label.

I see your point. My songs are still on iTunes and as a matter of fact several more on-line record shops and I am in complete control over everything I produce. I am tired of asking people for their opinion for everything. I am also very exhausted of people giving me a date or time and I sit around just waiting as if there are no other roads to take in this life. I don’t want to sell my face and frankly I don’t care what the rest of the industry does. Whatever they have been doing has been putting money in their pockets but they have really destroyed the industry. It’s safe keeping away from their system. Right now I am doing something which has never made me happier. I have just released an album and 4 singles and I am in complete control over what I do, whom I work with and how I produce my material. I have  a cover design made by my younger cousin, lyrics by another cousin, another song has lyrics written from my best buddy, vocals by a dear friend of mine, [ the singer MaRina ] and nobody can tell me anything about my new project and how to run it, record it or promote it. I don’t even want it to succeed so there is no possibility of failure. Some of the songs were written years ago but not in swing. Just regular  Pop Rock stuff. I turned them around because it was fun.

Q. You’ve matured.

Yes, I think so. I like it. I like having the odd wrinkle on my face and get a real kick out of 20 year old’s calling me “Sir.”

Q. Tell me about the industry, you mentioned that you are keeping a distance.

Yes and No, I don’t want to get involved with the industry to the point where people are telling me what to do. Franky I think that the wrong people have been chosen to make decisions in the record business. It’s all beat, no content and lots of anatomy shaking.

Q.  Can you give me an example?

Yes, Rihanna. I don’t like her songs and her music videos are giving the younger generation the wrong idea of what a lady should be. She promotes sex and drugs and that is a complete “no no” according to little Stevie.

Q. You’re angry.

No not at all, I am happy as a pig in mud. I am just being honest, I can’t sit here and lie to you. I am honoured that you are asking me questions and I don’t want to play that “reporter – musician” game with you. I don’t want to speak using the industry lingo I want honesty.

Q. Tell us a little about your past

My parents are Greek, I was born and raised in Toronto and I have been living in Greece since the fall of 1989. Music is the only thing I know so that’s what I do. There was a period of 10 years where I just did karaoke and consumed lots of whiskey but that was boring. Now I prefer waking up at 6:30 in the morning, observing the climate, breathing in the fresh air and writing music.

Q. What’s it like living in Greece?

It’s tough. Great sea and sun but it’s tough. It seems like the government is always working against you and they aren’t really helping much. They assume you are going to  break the law and they treat you that way before you have even been convicted of anything.

Q. Tell me a bit about the economic and political situation in Greece.

I can’t, I don’t know enough to be able to draw a conclusion. I avoid watching television too. There is something wrong though. Perhaps, bad management. I am really the wrong person to ask because I know nothing about politics, most of the people I know won’t admit to “not really knowing enough” but I do.

Q. I’ve spent a few years in Greece, that is where we had our first conversations, how has it changed. Tell me a little about Athens.

Most of the city is the same. The transportation has really improved. The past two or three years the number of shops which have closed give Athens a different feel. It’s not as active or as happy as it used to be. The old city, the downtown core hasn’t lost it’s magic, especially if you are around the Acropolis area.

Q. Do your prefer Greece or Canada.

Well many people have asked me the same question and I used to say, “ oh both are nice, Greece has great climate and Canada has a great system . Now I’ll tell you that Greece is a pretty country but it’s draining me. I don’t think Greece will treat me well as a elder, and that is pretty much how I feel. It’s the truth.

Q. Ok back to the music. What next?

I have no idea. I have Ikarian roots which means I may live to record another 20 albums or maybe just quit yesterday and milk goats for a living. Both are quite exceptional.

Q. Do you visit Ikaria Island?

Yes, my family has a home in Ikaria and I am not spending enough time there. I would like to go to Ikaria tomorrow and spend 6 months there.

Q. Would you write music?

I don’t know, I have never tried to write music there. I would love to try.

Q. You mentioned your cousins helping you in the “just4fun” project.

Sure, well there is the youngest who is Nikos, he has Ikarian roots and is very talented and he is studying art in Greece. He designed the cover. He sent me 3 or 4 ideas and I picked the one I liked and then he just polished it. I don’t know if I took him 2 minutes or 2 weeks to do it but I am proud of him either way. Then my cousin Maria, also Ikarian had written a poem years ago and I had written the music for that so I included it in the project. It’s the “Antidrasi” song. Then 2 friends of mine added lyrics to English lyric songs I had written. I really enjoyed that. I really like that people who are actually a part of my life have contributed to my album. I actually know the people who did the art work and wrote the lyrics. It’s not as if I went looking for a famous lyricist who will write something for me. It’s just that simple and I like simple. I wish I could be more simple.

Q. What is medium swing?

Hmm, I am not  a jazz musician, this sort of style just surfaced from within and I love it to bits. One day I just  started playing Fly Me To The Moon and I used a series of chords I found while searching through google. One musician referred to it as  ” medium swing” so I had to investigate. Some people use the swing terms depending on how much groove the song contains. Others just use the term “medium swing” as a tempo reference. That is how I use it. I am just saying that these songs are medium in tempo on a swing beat.

Q. Do you enjoy recording?

No, I don’t like recording studios. Most of them are quite cold and industrial looking and they make me feel as though I have to perform my best. I think that we are performing our best as each minute goes by, as long as we a true to ourselves. From now on, I record at home or even on a mountain. I don’t care so much about the sound quality anymore. As long as I can take the listener on a small journey then my mission has been accomplished. Actually it’s not even a mission. A song is a song. Hamburgers are more important because we actually have to digest them.

Q. Describe the life of a musician. Actually I am interested in Steve the musician. Are you happy? If you had a choice would you have  done something else?

My sister asked me the same question. That is a tough one. I wake up and sleep thinking music and sometimes I learn music even when I sleep. When I am out with friends, I make up excuses for leaving early so I can work on a bass line or write a musical phrase for the 2nd Clarinet. I guess music is a drug. My drug. Then there is also another side to me, sometimes I think that if I had another choice in life I would choose psychology, have a family and a home with a white picket fence. Two extremes eh? I don’t reaaly like the lifestyle of the traditional musician. I like sleeping and waking up very early and I am not fond of the bar scene. I like the company of very few people and I prefer to have conversations that will educate me and not hang out in a sports bar talking about a hockey game.

Q. Ever do drugs?

Of coarse, I ‘ve tried it all. Tripping is quite funny once in a while but after a while I realized  that drugs are for those who need them. I don’t need them. I can trip on my own the minute I walk out this door and I can keep my high for as long as I choose and it’s free.

Q. Have you written any music under the influence of any drug or alcohol?

No, far from it. I am always with a clear mind and stress free. When I am in that frame of mind I can write a song each day, actually upon the hour. I don’t want that though, I want to enjoy other things in life too. I want to have a complete sense of time with my music. I want to feel every minutes that goes by and I can’t do that when I am drinking or on drugs. I want to know and feel that this song was just written in 5 minutes and know what it needs one day before I start polishing it.

Q. Name some musicians you admire.

I admire Elton John for his craft in song writing but I am not too fond of his productions. I should be careful, I am talking about a Sir. I can listen to some Rolling Stones but not too much, actually, I get a real kick out of watching them. I think I can appreciate all kinds of music and I can appreciate all musicians whether they are famous or not. I don’t like noise, distortion, heavy metal or any kind of aggression in music. I admire those who really study hard and long and it shows in their work. I can appreciate a fine production even if the song is shallow but as long as it makes me happy. The final product is what matters to me. I don’t care about fancy guitar solos or high end productions, I just like a good song.

Q. Do you enjoy Rap music?

No.

Q. Why not?

hmm… it doesn’t make me feel good. If you want me to get more specific or technical, it usually doesn’t contain a melody line so automatically I find it lacks in composition. Then the lyrics are not in a style I can appreciate. Most of it is pure aggression. One can argue that but I don’t care, it doesn’t make me feel good. There have been Rap songs I’ve enjoyed. Years ago I enjoyed Rappers Delight and I have enjoyed some Eminem. I am a little old fashioned I suppose. I love Abba, I think they have written absolute perfect music and I know their music will be around for many many decades to come. I don’t like the elements of Rap music or the lack of.

Q. Can you tell me about the elements of music?

Well, there is rhythm, that is the first element and I think it’s the first element because everything about us is rhythmical. Our heart beat, the way we walk, talk, dance. Then Melody. I always die for a good melody line. Third is harmony, it’s how you colour your melody. I think they are all beautiful and necessary.

Q. Looking over your C.V., I notice that your music studies are quite extensive.

No they aren’t really. Not enough. I studied piano for well over a decade in a fine institution, The Royal Conservatory of Music and had private lessons with Stefanos Karabekos, the Conductor of the New Canadian Symphonic Orchestra. I am fond of my instructors, especially Karabekos.

Q. What made Karabekos so special?

Well, all of my music teachers were special but Karabekos showed me that I can bend the rules anytime I choose. I don’t know if he intended to do that but that is what `I realized years later. When you are playing a song and at one point you have to slow down, it’s up to me how much I prolong that “ritardando”. It’s nice when you are studying a piece of music and your instructor stops the lesson and sais, “oh look what they did there. It sounds like this other song I know” and they just start playing it for you. It puts you in fun mode, almost like we are jamming.  Maybe it’s non of the above, maybe it’s just because that is where I learned the most. I don’t believe that rules were meant to be broken but expression is what makes one person different from the other. I really picked that up from Karabekos.

Q. Are you in love?

I sure am Sir, I have been for over 25 years and I don’t mean in love with myself. I am married, that just actually happened recently. Funny social status isn’t it?

Q. How do you mean?

Well people perceive your relationship or your love for another person with greater value if you tell them you are married. It’s almost as if you are in love without emotion or depth prior to that but society itself can be quite funny at times.

Q. Going back to something much earlier in our conversation you mentioned you are now in complete control over what you deliver. How so? I mean is that really true?

I have my own record label so yes, it’s true. I write the music, I arrange it, I select who I want to mix and master my music. If I record in a studio I can select the studio myself. If I release a project which contains ten songs I can choose which song I would like people to hear first. I can add bagpipes to African instruments and use them in the most unorthodox way without anyone accepting or rejecting the choices I make. I can put them up for sale, I can take them down and rearrange them using splashing water instead of drums. I can have one track with birds chirping and call it Lasagna because I just felt like it.

Q. If you had a choice to record a song with a Mega Star who would it be?

Nobody. They don’t want to record a song with me. Unless of coarse the artist called me personally then I would prefer Kenny Rogers or Paul McCartney. As long as the artist actually called me. I wouldn’t want to feel as though I recorded a song with a mega star and they made me famous. I would be just as happy having a cup of tea with Paul and talking about life. not even the music industry.

Q. Do you like Pop Music? I know the answer but it’s something I would just love to hear you say in public.

I love Pop music. You know me better than I thought. I was born in 1966 which means that my most impressionable years were 70’s and 80’s top ten in North America. I love anything that is Pop. Of coarse there is bad pop but who cares , there is good and bad in everything from music to world leaders.

Q. Are you currently writing new songs?

Yes, I have just written one and I have a bathroom recording of it. I will polish it when I get back home and I am half way through another.

Q. So where is home?

Toronto!

Q. When will we hear these new songs?

I will release them in October. Both songs will belong to a set of songs in swing style but I don’t have an album title yet. I might call it “Sweet Toronto”. I’ll see.

David Davis

I despair of the way politicians believe they must make binding statements about things! Today, not that surprisingly, David Davis has weighed in against the admirable Nicola Sturgeon to rule out her proposition that it might be possible for Scotland to remain in some form within the EU while yet also remaining within the UK. I had been saying the same thing actually since the referendum result so of course I think the First Minister’s idea is both sound and clever.

Mr Davis loves to be negative. I think what he says does not quite do the the man justice, because I know he has shown a lot of personal kindness to gay MPs in difficulties with the media while yet maintaining a defiance about the repeal of Section 28 and also voting against the gay marriage act. I think, in that strange gurgling voice that must be an imitation of the great, late Daniel Massey, he likes to sound decisive. (he even goes on record supporting the death penalty)

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I think, however, that politics is about being ready to change our opinions. If this were not the case, then there would be no point debating stuff in the Commons. We might as well just read out speeches from some grand podium instead. Our British democratic tradition is based on our capacity to adapt to realities. The reality now is that the BREXIT decision has been made in England, though the same is far from certainly the case in Scotland, Gibraltar and Northern Ireland where an overwhelming majority voted to Remain. A clever politician recognises this tension and moves forward. Theresa May did just that (she is a unionist) in her first speech and then, more directly, (she would listen to any options) when she went up to Edinburgh. I was optimistic – until Davis started to pontificate.

Because Davis feels he still needs to win the referendum debate. To quote the great Healey, “What a silly billy” he is being! He has been dealt an Ace and he is still fiddling around with his Knaves. We have heard his points before. They were all made in the Referendum debate- which he won! We now want to hear something else. We do not expect a Minister to be a trained parrot and certainly not one peddled by Farage pet supplies.

This spurred the First Minister to declare that a second referendum could be as early as Next year. Especially if at the point of triggering Article 50, the first Minister is not “on board”:

“I will have an independence referendum if I come to conclusion that is in the best interests of Scotland. I’ve always said that. It would be up to Scottish people ultimately to decide if that is right way to go.”

She told Andrew Marr,

“I think the positive outcome of the meeting I had with the prime minister on Friday was that she said she was prepared to listen to options that the Scottish government would bring forward to give effect to how Scotland voted and we will certainly bring forward options. Let’s see what progress we can make.” Don’t you love this woman!

I hope to God that the wise women here win this discussion, because the testosterone-driven declarations of Davis do no one any good.