You should never be surprised when your heroes let you down. But when John Cale accepted an OBE I have to admit to being very disappointed.

   Here is a man whose work I have followed avidly ever since my friend and musical mentor the Bartzman, taped the song 'Thoughtless Kind'. While I did admire his electric viola contributions to the Velvets, the band were never my favourites.

   In characteristically obsessive manner, I went about acquiring everything Cale ever released (though there are a few gaps). There's so much to excite and amaze, from the acoustic 'Fragments of a Rainy Season' to the remarkably inventive 'Music for a New Society'and , above all, one of the most startlingly original cd's of the Noughties, the short yet fascinating 'Five Tracks'. On this, Cale's experiments with loops and samples show the classical composer and the singer-songwriter joining as one.

   Cale always managed to connect with Wales, however distant he was physically and his settings of Dylan Thomas's poems are unorthodox and challenging. In short, he's someone who deserves to be honoured more highly in Cymru :  a Gwyn Alf Williams Award perhaps ( there used to be one.......the great photographer Philip Jones Griffiths was the last recipient).

   If the Dylan Thomas Prize were meaningful, then it would be given to an artist in whatever medium who furthered the spirit of Dylan, instead of under 30's writers whose work appears to have no connection. Cale would be one of the winners, I've no doubt.

    However, to take the Queen's Shilling and an Order of the Brit Empire is truly ironic. His album 'Words for the Dying' comprises the Falklands Suite (featuring those interpretations of Thomas) and is an implied criticism of that war, fought to further an ancient idea of Empire.

   So, has Cale changed, sold out, or merely thought - 'What the hell, it's about time I got recognised!' Either way, it's in stark contrast to another of my heroes, Paul Weller.

   Weller's music has never again managed to reach the heights of the 90's, with 'Wild Wood' and 'Stanley Road'. Even the spirited and adventurous 'Wake up the Nation' often echoes those two fine albums. When I saw the programme showing the very best of 250 Jools Holland shows, Weller stood out with his song 'Sunflower' : a poetic, rocking, raw love song.........such a rare thing!

   Moreover, Weller has always stuck to his principles and never been shy to voice them. In a recent Guardian interview, I loved his outspoken comments - '....... it had the investiture of the Prince of Wales. How fuckin' ridiculous that whole scene and system is. How fuckin' anachronistic and absurd. Especially as he's not even fuckin'  Welsh! It's such an insult to the Welsh people.'  No chance of an OBE for Weller then!

    It was undoubtedly that distant echo of the Jam's 'Down in the Tube Station at Midnight' which came back to me when I wrote the poem below. Weller's always been a songwriter in tune with the streets -

                                   DOWN AT THE BUS STATION

Down at the bus station
October is deceiving :
round the corner rain and cold winds.

Smokers sit in rows on concrete borders,
a yellowing space between
their bags and journeys home.

Cops have shifted dealers and addicts on;
there have been complaints, tussles, arrests
and no-one knows where they've gone.

A woman turns over boxes, searching
at the back of the greengrocer's,
finds a single carrot, diver with a pearl.

A girl's been done for shoplifting,
her parents with her ; the man who joined the army
knows it could easily have been him.

Taxis wait for customers in a curve
like a blade of black, their drivers
chat slices across the street.

Down at the bus station October's gossiping:
from bright to cloud in seconds,
appalled at the sky, its indiscretions.


12/13/2010 21:21

he may very well have accepted it as a big joke. he went to collect it with hair dyed pink and blue.


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