Bill Hunter 1920-2015

July 30, 2015 at 6:22 pm (class, history, Marxism, posted by JD, RIP, socialism, trotskyism)

Bill Hunter (self-portrait above) died on 9 July. He was a leading member of the early British Trotskyist group, the Revolutionary Communist Party, later a member of the organisations led by the thug and (it turned out) sexual predator Gerry Healy, but in the 1980s joined an opposition faction that eventually broke with Healy


By Sean Matgamna (this obituary also appears in the AWL’s paper Solidarity)

Insofar as it is possible to separate personal qualities from politics, Bill Hunter was a model revolutionary: selfless, dedicated, always striving to be “objective” — that is, not to let personal feelings intrude on political attitudes and decisions — willing to  pay whatever personal price his politics demanded of him.

When I first encountered him, early in 1960, I thought he looked the part, with a long ascetic face (after a near-fatal car crash in 1962, his face had to be reconstructed), spare frame and his general air of driving political seriousness. Without these qualities no revolutionary movement is possible. They are not enough, of course. Bill’s political life was a tragic proof of that.

I have a fond memory of Bill from the early 60s. I came upon him in Manchester waiting in the little van he drove — he was Lancashire-Cheshire organiser for the Socialist Labour League — deeply engrossed in The ABC of Communism, the early 1920s book by  Bukharin and Preobrazhensky.  It was perhaps the sixth time he’d read it, he told me; he reread “the books” of the movement frequently.

He’d been a Trotskyist then for at least 20 years.  The title he put on his autobiography, Lifelong Apprentice summed up his attitude. It was the right attitude.

• The next issue of Solidarity will carry a longer obituary.

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Charles Kennedy: what Labour could learn

June 3, 2015 at 9:02 pm (good people, iraq war, labour party, Lib Dems, mental health, reformism, RIP, tragedy, war)

By Alan Theasby

RIP Charles Kennedy 1959-2015

I’m not a fan, but there is a lot Labour could learn from him.

When he took the boring “centre right” LibDems by the scruff of the neck and carved out a position as an independent “radical” party to the left of New Labour (at least to appearances), the result was a massive electoral swing in 2005, and LibDems were still seen by many as “left of Labour” in 2010 (how many thousands left in disgust at their role in the Coalition?)

When the LibDems presented radical, left politics – against the Iraq War, for EMA, against tuition fees, even anti-cuts to some extent – they got lots of support.

In Scotland the SNP is posing “left” and taking advantage of Scottish Labour’s abysmal policies: cuts, attacks on Unite union, and in bed with the Tories in “Better Together” etc. No wonder they swept the board, it’s a total indictment of Blairism and the likes of Jim Murphy!

In England the Greens are taking up the mantle that the LibDems had until 2010; this has not yet translated into votes but that’s a serious posibility if Labour contimues on its current “middle of the road/neither owt nor nowt” course or moves even further rightwards.

Lots of activists & “lefties” I know have  massive illusions in the SNP & Greens, and write off the Labour Party as dead. I disagree on both counts: the SNP & Greens can pose as “left” under the Tories and with a Labour Party looking to “middle England”/ the “middle classes” (etc), but I have no illusions in them; and (although I like the word “Pasokification” – and now “Pascotification”) this is not Greece and Labour has deep roots unlike PASOK, and thewre is no sign in Britain of anytrhing like Syriza (which did not spring from nowhere but was created through splits & fusions in the existing strong Greek Communist Party, left union activists and other left groups).

So what do others think? Given that there is not even a vaguely left candidate for Leader, will Labour become a pathetic rump – or can it recover? Meanwhile, it’s come to something, hasn’t it, when the record of a former SDP’er and leader of the Lib Dems, is much braver and more left-wing than any candidate for leader of the Labour Party?

JD adds: and, at a human level, a thought from Gaby Hinsliff in today’s Graun:

All those people getting cheap laughs on social media out of Kennedy’s last erratic performance on the BBC’s Question Time, or rejoicing in his defeat on election night, were just a visible example of a culture which not only stigmatises people with mental health problems but treats public figures – politicians or otherwise – as if they were somehow less than human. If Charles Kennedy’s death leads one or two to pause before unleashing mob scorn or fury, if it prompts an ounce more compassion for people whose lives might well be more complicated than they look – well, a fine liberal legacy that would be.

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The King of the Blues is dead

May 16, 2015 at 4:39 pm (good people, music, posted by JD, RIP, The blues)

BB King, 1925-2015

“[H]is instrumental virtuosity and the seamless interaction between the liquid, vocal tone he conjured from the numerous Gibson semi-acoustic guitars that have borne the nickname “Lucille” over the past six-and-a-half decades and his warm, chesty singing (“First I sing and then Lucille sings”) was only one part of the reason for his pre-eminence not only in his chosen field of the blues but in the broader expanse of the past musical century’s popular mainstream. BB King was also one of the planet’s consummate entertainers; his expansive stage presence, enveloping generosity of spirit, patent willingness to drive himself into the ground for his audiences and ability to put virtually any crowd at their ease took him from the backbreaking labour and harsh racism of the rural Southern states to the biggest stages of the world’s capital cities” -From the excellent appreciation by Charles Shaar Murray in today’s Guardian.

The Thrill Is Gone (probably his most famous recording):

…and here’s a live version of my personal favourite Three O’ Clock Blues:

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RIP Marty Napoleon: Louis Armstrong’s last pianist

May 2, 2015 at 3:38 pm (good people, jazz, Jim D, music, RIP)

In memory of Marty Napoleon:

Marty played piano with Gene Krupa, Red Allen (and – much later – Harry Allen), Doc Cheatham, and (perhaps most memorably) the last editions of the Louis Armstrong All Stars, after Billy Kyle’s death. Now Marty has gone, but here he is, aged 91 in 2012, playing a medley of latter-day Louis songs (he even sings himself at one point) in a New York club that had arranged a special night for him, with fellow-veterans Bill Crow on bass and Ray Mosca at the drums (and just watch – and listen to – those ol’ guys swing!).

As my good friend Michael Steinman (of the great Jazz Lives blog) wrote at the time : “If this is 91, I want to be a rug-cutter in just this Napoleonic manner. Marty, Bill and Ray rocked the room”:

Here’s Michael’s very moving tribute, posted at Jazz Lives a couple of days ago:

Pianist, singer, composer Marty Napoleon “made the transition” from this earthly world to another one on Monday night, April 27.  His dear friend Geri Goldman Reichgut told me that on his last night on the planet he ate some dessert and listened to music: the signs of what my Irish friends call “a beautiful death.”

I can’t find it in my heart to be too mournful about Marty’s moving out of this earthly realm.  It seems to me that the New Orleanians have the right idea: cry a little at the birth, because that spirit taking corporeal form might have some bumps in this life, and rejoice at the death, because the spirit is free — to ramble the cosmos in the company of other spirits.

I was in conversation with the wonderful pianist Mike Lipskin last night — we sat on a bench in Greenwich Village and lamented that fewer people are playing particular kinds of the music we both love . . . and we both envisioned a future where it might not even be performed.  But I said fervently, “The MUSIC will always be here,” and I believe that.

It is true in Marty’s case as well.  And as a tribute to the man and his spirit, I offer some tangible immortal evidence here and here.

And a closing story.  One of my heroes is the writer William Maxwell, also no longer around in his earthly shape.  Late in his life, he began taking piano lessons and working his way through some simple classical pieces.  I think this gave him great pleasure but was also frustrating — in the way making music is even more difficult for those who have spent their lives appreciating the superb performances of others.  In his final year, a dear friend said to him, “Bill, in the life to come you will be able to play the piano with ease, won’t you?”  And he replied, “In the next life I will not be making music.  I will be music.”

And he is.  As is Marty.

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Stan Freberg on political correctness and censorship

April 10, 2015 at 5:57 pm (comedy, Free Speech, Jim D, RIP)

The death of Stan Freberg, at the age of 88, has been all but ignored this side of the pond. But there was a time (the 1950s and 60s) when as well as being a leading US comedian, he was also a familiar voice on BBC radio. His great spoof recordings were not intended as political satire, but one at least is as relevant – possibly more relevant – today than when he recorded it in 1957:

H/t Gene at That Place

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Terry Pratchett: ‘Shaking Hands With Death’

March 12, 2015 at 6:41 pm (BBC, Disability, funny, good people, humanism, literature, posted by JD, RIP)

Below: an extract from Terry Pratchett’s Richard Dimbleby lecture, Shaking Hands With Death, February 2010:

When I was a young boy, playing on the floor of my grandmother’s front room, I glanced up at the television and saw Death, talking to a knight. I didn’t know much about death at that point. It was the thing that happened to ­budgerigars and hamsters. But it was Death, with a scythe and an amiable manner. I didn’t know it at the time, of course, but I had just watched a clip from Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, wherein the knight engages in protracted dialogue, and of course the ­famous chess game, with the Grim Reaper who, it seemed to me, did not seem so terribly grim.

The image has remained with me ever since and Death as a character ­appeared in the first of my Discworld novels. He has evolved in the series to be one of its most popular characters; implacable, because that is his job, he appears to have some sneaking regard and compassion for a race of creatures which are to him as ephemeral as mayflies, but which nevertheless spend their brief lives making rules for the universe and counting the stars.

I have no clear recollection of the death of my grandparents, but my ­paternal grandfather died in the ambulance on the way to hospital after just having cooked and eaten his own dinner at the age of 96. He had felt very odd, got a neighbour to ring for the doctor and stepped tidily into the ambulance and out of the world. A good death if ever there was one. Except that, ­according to my father, he did ­complain to the ambulance men that he hadn’t had time to finish his pudding. I am not at all sure about the truth of this, because my father had a finely tuned sense of humour that he was good enough to bequeath to me, presumably to make up for the weak bladder, short stature and male pattern baldness which regrettably came with the package.

My father’s own death was more protracted. He had a year’s warning. It was pancreatic cancer. Technology kept him alive, at home and in a state of reasonable comfort and cheerfulness, for that year, during which we had those conversations that you have with a dying parent. Perhaps it is when you truly get to know them, when you ­realise that it is now you marching ­towards the sound of the guns and you are ready to listen to the advice and reminiscences that life was too crowded for up to that point. He ­unloaded all the anecdotes that I had heard before, about his time in India during the war, and came up with a few more that I had never heard. Then, at one point, he suddenly looked up and said, “I can feel the sun of India on my face”, and his face did light up rather magically, brighter and happier than I had seen it at any time in the previous year, and if there had been any justice or even narrative sensibility in the ­universe, he would have died there and then, shading his eyes from the sun of Karachi.

He did not. Read the rest of this entry »

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RIP Konstandions Erik Sculfield: anti-fascist hero

March 4, 2015 at 7:52 pm (anti-fascism, good people, humanism, internationalism, Jim D, kurdistan, Middle East, RIP, solidarity, war)

 

.The ex-Royal Marine, named as Konstandinos Erik Scurfield, who was killed fighting for the Peshmerga in northern Iraq.

Make no mistake: ex-Royal Marine, Konstandinos Erik Scurfield, who was killed on Monday, fighting with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria, was an anti-fascist hero.

His comrade, ex-US soldier Jordan Matson, also a YPG volunteer, wrote on Facebook:

“Kosta as we call him was from the United Kingdom and was born a Greek citizen. He served in both the Greek army and as a British Royal Marine commando up until he came here. He served with me in Jezza and Shengal.

“Kosta volunteered for every attack and guard duty opportunity. He wanted nothing more than to bring the fight to the enemy.

“I’m going to carry on your legacy  brother, I will; never forget you. I love you man.

“Save ne a place up there big guy.”

Scurfield had been fighting in an area southwest of the town of Tal Hamis, which Kurdish forces seized from the ISIS/Daesh fascists last week, when (it is thought) the vehicle in which he was travelling was hit by mortar fire.

The death of this hero reminds us of how shamefully the Kurdish forces have been neglected by the West and that, despite their courage and superior fighting skills, they are often simply out-gunned by the well-equipped forces of ISIS/Daesh.

In memory of Kosta, we must demand of our government: Arm The Kurds!

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Konstandions Erik Sculfield (kneeling); Credit: Facebook/Jordan Matson

Konstandions Erik Sculfield (kneeling); Credit: Facebook/Jordan Matson

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In memory of our beloved comrade, Avijit Roy

February 28, 2015 at 9:24 pm (Andrew Coates, Bangladesh, blogging, Free Speech, good people, humanism, islamism, murder, posted by JD, religion, RIP, terror)

Reblogged from Tendance Coatesy:

Memorial Protest for a Beloved Fighter for Freedom.

Avijit Roy, who has been killed in an attack in Dhaka at the age of 42, was a Bangladeshi-American blogger, published author, and prominent defender of the free-thought movement in Bangladesh.

Mr Roy rose to prominence though his prolific writing on his self-founded site, Mukto-Mona – an internet gathering of mostly South Asia free-thinkers, ratio­nalists, sceptics and humanists founded in 2000.

He was a passionate atheist and an adherent of metaphys­ical naturalism – the school of thought that rejects the supernatural concepts and explanations that are part of many religions.

He was the author of numerous books, and had many articles published in magazines and journals.

In a conservative country like Bangladesh, his subject matter was often contentious, covering sensitive issues such as homosexuality – which he argued was inherent in nature – religious unbelief and cosmology.

Mr Roy’s followers argue that many of his secular ideas are in the tradition of the great Bengali writer Rabindranath Tagore, who died in 1941 and is often referred to as “Bengal’s Shakespeare”.

Some of the last books Mr Roy wrote, Obisshahser Dorshon (The Philosophy of Disbelief) and Biswasher Virus (The Virus of Faith), were critically well received around the world.

In the Virus of Faith he argues that “faith-based terrorism will wreak havoc on society in epidemic proportions”.

In one of his last published articles in the Free Inquiry magazine, Mr Roy wrote: “To me, religious extremism is like a highly contagious virus. My own recent experiences in this regard verify the horrific reality that such religious extremism is a virus of faith.”

He said in the article that a book he published last year “hit the cranial nerve of Islamic fundamentalists” and led to him being targeted by militant Islamists and terrorists.

It also led, he said, to a man openly issuing death threats against him on Facebook.

“Avijit Roy lives in America and so it is not possible to kill him right now,” Mr Roy quoted one threat against him as saying, “but he will be murdered when he gets back.”

BBC.

The Independent reports,

Avijit Roy and his wife were returning from a book fair at Dhaka University on Thursday evening when they were attacked.

Witnesses told local media their bicycle rickshaw was stopped by two men who dragged them on to the pavement but police chief Sirajul Islam said the couple were ambushed as they walked towards a roadside tea stall.

Both accounts said at least two men with machetes started hacking at the couple as they lay on the ground.

The attackers then ran away, disappearing into crowds.

Mr Roy, believed to be in his 40s, was pronounced dead during emergency surgery at the Dhaka Medical College hospital and his wife, Rafida Ahmed Banna, lost a finger and is being treated for serious injuries.

Police found her severed finger alongside two machetes and a bag possibly belonging to the attackers at the scene

In Commemoration: Avijit Roy.

News From Bangladesh:

BD News 24.

Avijit’s killing stirs world media Mohammad Abu Bakar Siddique

The brutal killing of writer, blogger Avijit Roy in hand of machete-wielding assailants has created a shockwave in the global media.

The leading news organisations from around the world including BBC, Reuters, the Guardian, The New York Times, NDTV etc condemned the barbarous killing, bringing out detail of the attack.

BBC placed the news on the attack that left the Bangladesh-born US citizen dead and his wife also a blogger Rafida Ahmed Bonna, critically injured, as its lead on the following day, with the headline suggesting “US-Bangladesh blogger Avijit Roy hacked to death.”

The contributions of Avijit, a naturalised US citizen, particularly his activism for scientific knowledge and secularism through online and publications, his receiving threats from militants groups, the attack by the widespread protest against the killing and for arrest of the attackers, and the country’s context were mentioned in the BBC’s report.

The killing of the son of the country’s one of the most prominent professors Ajay Roy was covered Reuters, as “American blogger killed in Bangladesh machete attack,” the New York Times reported “Avijit Roy, Bangladeshi-American Writer, Is Killed by Machete-Wielding Assailants,” besides several other versions with updates.

Roy came to Dhaka for publication of his new books in the book fair around mid-February with his wife, and on the evening they fell under the attack in the TSC area in Dhaka University on the way back from the fair.

Avijit wrote a number of books on mainly philosophy, rationalism and science, in line with his activism, also in online, for secularism and freedom of expression, for which he had been receiving death threats since long, including the recent one when social media fanatics openly declared to kill him on coming home, family told media.

The UK-based the Guardian reported “American atheist blogger hacked to death in Bangladesh” mentioning the previously happened similar attacks on the free thinkers.

“American-Bangladeshi atheist blogger Avijit Roy hacked to death by suspected Islamist extremists,” wrote the UK based the Independent.

The Telegraph wrote: “Atheist US blogger hacked to death in Bangladesh,” while The Times headlined “Atheist US blogger hacked to death in Bangladesh”

CNN titled “Prominent Bangladeshi-American blogger Avijit Roy killed” where it detailed with the facts related to the killing and the shocks emerged from it.

It reported on the very attack in two more stories with title “American writer hacked to death in Bangladesh spoke out against extremists”, and “Blogger’s brutal death for speaking his mind.”

From the murder to the UN condemnation, the media all around the world are coming up with the follow ups as well.

The attack was widely covered in the media of neighboring India and Pakistan.

India’s NDTV and Pakistan’s Dawn among the prominent news media covered the story, his contributions, threats were mentioned.

These news media are also following the developments in Bangladesh and the world, in response to the attack, protest and condemnation that began in Dhaka.

 

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Clark Terry RIP

February 22, 2015 at 7:29 pm (good people, jazz, posted by JD, RIP)

The great musician and human being has finally succumbed: the following article was (obviously) written a few years ago. It’s a fitting tribute to this great musician, and also contains many words of wisdom that would-be jazz musicians should take to heart:

Clark Terry is one of the living legends of this music.

He has played with every big name in jazz over the last half-century from the likes of Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Oscar Peterson, to Ella Fitzgerald…the list could go on forever. With such a rich performing career spanning over six decades, he continues to play with today’s top musicians and inspire up and coming improvisers.

During school, I was lucky enough to have an impromptu lesson with the trumpet master. One night after a rehearsal for a gig, Clark came in unannounced to the practice rooms at our school looking to impart some wisdom to some aspiring musicians. Before I knew it I was sitting inches from Clark Terry’s bell and he was teaching me a tune by ear.

That sound that I had listened to for years on record was coming out of a horn a foot away from me. It was an experience that I will always remember. I don’t know what was more impressive, the fact that I was sitting down with a jazz legend or that Clark, age of 89, came into the music school practice rooms around 10 at night to hang out with students for free.

Pretty amazing, but then again Clark Terry has been dedicated to educating young jazz musicians for decades. He mentored a young Miles Davis and encouraged Quincy Jones as he was starting out as an arranger and trumpet player. With a track record like that, it’s safe to say that he knows a few things about learning this music.

If you’ve ever had the opportunity to hear Clark speak or attend one of his master classes, you have probably heard him talk about his take on jazz articulation or about the history of the music as he lived it. One topic that he often talks about is how to approach learning improvisation. For Clark Terry, the art of learning jazz can be summed up into three words: Imitation, Assimilation, Innovation.

Clark explains this idea in about 20 seconds in the clip below:

Sounds pretty simple and straight-forward, right? The great thing is that this idea actually is simple and easy to comprehend, however when you get down to business, each step entails some serious in-depth study and dedicated practice time.

Imitation

Imitation: Listening. Learning lines by ear. Transcribing solos. Absorbing a player’s feel, articulation, and time.

This is where it all begins.

Imitation is an integral first step in learning to improvise, but sadly, it’s often overlooked by beginners because scales and theory are immediately thrown in their faces. While you do need to have a solid understanding of music theory, the truth is that scales and chords, no matter how much you memorize them or run them up and down, aren’t going to magically turn into great stylistic improvisations full of long lines and interesting harmonies. To do that you need a model.

The great thing about jazz is that who you choose to imitate is entirely up to you. Maybe you dig a player’s sound and articulation, maybe an unconventional ii-V7 line catches your ear, or perhaps the way a soloist uses space in their phrases may be something you desire in your personal concept. Imitation is not relegated to only harmonic ideas or even to the players on your own instrument. If you like what you hear, learn it and incorporate it into your playing.

By imitating the players you love, you’ll begin to understand the music on a deeper level and begin to see a personal sound develop in your own approach to improvisation. Questions that can’t be answered by music theory or etude books, like how to play longer lines or how to articulate and swing, will reveal themselves as you start to imitate the masters.

Assimilation

Assimilation means ingraining these stylistic nuances, harmonic devices, and lines that you’ve transcribed into your musical conception. Not just mentally understanding them on the surface level, but truly connecting them to your ear and body. This is where the hours of dedication and work come in.

Get into the practice room and repeat these lines over and over again, hundreds of times, until they are an unconscious part of your musical conception. Take these phrases through all keys, all ranges, and all inversions. Begin slowly and incrementally increase the speed until you can easily play them. Don’t feel satisfied until you can play these lines in your sleep.

This is not an easy step to complete.

Many of us have taken a lick or pattern in one key and inserted it into our solos as an easy and quick way to sound hip. However, if you’re honest with yourself, it’s clear that this approach is really limiting your playing – not transforming it. Stealing a lick from a book of transcribed solos or learning a line in only one key is not going to cut it. You need to learn these lines and ideas from the record and work them out in all 12 keys. Practice them until you have them down cold and can execute them in the blink of an eye.

A great way to quickly internalize the lines and styles that you’re trying to absorb is to sing them. Sing the rhythms, accents, and the exact pitches so they are first ingrained into your ears – you can even do this outside of the practice room. Remember, when you’ve truly assimilated something, it’s ingrained to the point that you’ll never forget it.

Innovation

Creating a fresh and personal approach to the music. Many young musicians want to skip to this step as soon as they start learning how to improvise. They want to have their own harmonic concept and a unique sound on their instrument right from the get-go. Without a model or in-depth conception of harmony and melody though, it will be much more difficult to create a truly unique approach.

Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing.~Salvador Dalì

Innovation is the direct result of hours upon hours of imitation and assimilation. Take a look at the great innovators that this music has already seen. Each one spent countless hours studying harmony, solos, form, tunes, etc. in order to realize their own personal concept.

Woody Shaw studied the solos of Clifford Brown and Lee Morgan, and incorporated techniques idiomatic to the saxophone into his own improvisation. Coltrane mastered how to play over standards before he delved into the unknown with his quartet. Before you can change history and plot your own course, you have to know a few things about what preceded you.

The steps of imitation, assimilation, and innovation are not limited to “jazz” music. Take any style or concept that resonates with you and incorporate it into your playing through this process. You may like the harmonies of Ravel or the rhythms found in traditional Indian music. Listen to them, figure them out, analyze them, practice them, and finally use them in new and innovative ways in your improvisations.

Clark Terry’s legacy

Clark Terry is one of the masters of this music and a legendary trumpet player, but his legacy in educating young musicians is just as rich as his contributions on trumpet. Even at the age of 90, Clark continues to reach out to younger musicians and share his knowledge of what it takes to learn and live jazz. Everywhere that he goes, he is dedicated to passing on the tradition of this music to the players of today. Check out this video of Clark giving some words of wisdom to one of our friends and former classmates, Justin Kauflin:

The art of learning to improvise lies in three words: Imitation, Assimilation, and Innovation. Take it from Clark Terry, a master who has lived this music and knows what it takes. If you dedicate yourself to this process, you’ll see improvement in your playing immediately and you’ll be on track to becoming the player you’ve always wanted to be.

 

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Brian Parsons RIP

February 15, 2015 at 1:07 pm (culture, good people, internationalism, jazz, Jim D, music, RIP)

Brian Parsons died on Saturday morning, after a long illness (a brain tumour).

My very dear friend Brian Parsons died this morning, he bought a lot of joy and happiness into my life and the lives of many others too. Thank you for being my friend.

Brian had been very politically active in the 1970s and was, briefly, associated with the libertarian-left group Big Flame. He was also a great champion of a wide range of music and pioneered appreciation of what became known as “world music” by means of his Bongo-Go disco (with occasional live sessions), which for many years were a hugely popular feature of Birmingham night-life, at the Moseley Dance Centre. He also supported live jazz and blues: I last saw him about a year ago at a gig featuring the Kinda Dukish Big Band – apparently he’d long been a passionate enthusiast of the music of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn – something I’d never realised.

Meanwhile, he never lost his political commitment and remained a friend of equality and justice all his life.

So long, old friend and comrade!

H/t Terry Lilly

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