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Looking ahead by looking back

Musician ROBERT WYATT reflects on some of the highs and lows of the last 12 months and looks forward to the year ahead

I've heard it claimed that journalism is the first draft of history.

Maybe that's the problem with our mainstream news industry - better if history were the first draft of journalism, surely?

So to look ahead, I look back, to see a bit of how we got here.

I get little sense, seeing western reactions to Iran's more recent situation, of the back story about our relationship with that country, for example.

Its democratic and secular government at the beginning of the 1950s was overthrown by the British, scared of lucrative oil production being nationalised, persuading the US that Iran was going communist - a simple but clever way to get Iran's leader Mohammad Mossadeq removed in a coup, dubbed Operation Ajax by the CIA, and replaced by a compliant shah.

His regime alienated the people of Iran so much that they backed the only immediately available opposition leader, Ruhollah Mostafavi Khomeini.

Yet we dare claim the moral high ground.

A hope for the new year then is that people search further afield for different views of the world and at least nowadays there are alternative global news channels like Russia Today (RT) and Al Jazeera on the telly.

Our own channels boast of impartiality, which is arguable in domestic affairs, but even the pretence of impartiality is routinely disregarded in international affairs.

The two channels I mention are not totally impartial either but their ways of looking at the world seem to me far more comprehensive and broad-minded than the mainstream news diet here, which is primarily based on the assumption that Euro-America and its armed wing Nato operate in good faith to help Johnny Foreigner find the righteous road to civilisation.

The way our news presenters take such predictable sides on international issues is actually breathtakingly unapologetic - and predictably inconsistent. Some UN resolutions matter but, apparently, some don't.

As well as refreshingly different takes on the news of the day RT and Al Jazeera include many terrific documentaries, interviews and discussions.

On RT SophieCo presented by Sophie Shevardnadze has strong interviews and Breaking The Set, hosted by Abbie Martin, challenges mainstream news coverage while on Cross Talk Peter Lavelle chairs animated arguments.

And there's my favourite double act since the Two Ronnies - Stacy Herbert and Max Keiser on the Keiser Report - where the Heather Couper and Patrick Moore of high finance explore the furthest reaches of the mysterious universe of banksters and Ponzi schemes.

On Al Jazeera South 2 North, empathetically presented by Redi Tihabi in Johannesburg, is a series I really like, along with 101 East, The Stream, Earthrise, Wildlife Warzone and loads more great features.

Meanwhile back home, there's a wealth of living culture available to nourish us all.

Hats off to Pink Floyd's Roger Waters for his brave stand against the zionazis' ethnic cleansing of Palestine, Nigel Kennedy ditto. He's been playing with a great friend of mine, the Israeli-born double bassist Yaron Stavi.

A fellow exile of his has described himself as a "Hebrew-speaking Palestinian" which prompts a moment of reflection on that theologically, etymologically and historically abused term "anti-semitism" and how language can be a minefield in politics.

Semitic language speakers include 300 million Arabs, after all, and to anyone calling the many Israeli-born dissidents "self-hating Jews" I'm here to tell you that Stavi and his fellow exiles are totally at ease with who they are - anti-racist Jews.

Musically, what's cheered me up over the last 12 months is the first-rate hard bop on Gerald Clark's latest CD Nakba and a handful of really strong pop videos that will last, I believe.

To assume that all pop culture is ephemeral is to patronise a large majority of the population - unwise for anyone trying to connect with the real world. So, please allow me a few memorable recent pop records - Bang Bang by, Happy by Pharrell Williams and Love Me Again by John Newman.

The latter's record and accompanying video is in part a tribute to the "northern soul" phenomenon, when loads of mostly white working-class youth congregated to hear obscure African-American records, evolving a unique dance style of their own. Paul Mason, the BBC's former economics expert, even made the most unlikely documentary of the year demonstrating that his "northern soul" dance moves, remembered from his youth, were still gracefully authentic.


Other stand-outs were those angel-voiced Geordies, the Unthank sisters, Eliza Doolittle's Big When I Was Little and La-La-La by Sam Smith.

A wonderful video accompanies the latter and there's a fresh version of it by the Boxettes on Youtube and other great live music captured on film by Tali Atzman is Roxette by Norman Watt-Roy with Wilko Johnson.

A handful of great instrumentalist originals I hope will continue blowing magic through their saxophones are Sonny Rollins, Ornette Coleman and Archie Shepp. They were doing that while I was still in short trousers and still show no signs of retreating from the fray.

Meanwhile those concerned about the fate of the posher side of things must surely be knocked out by the standard of musicianship on display during the annual young musician of the year BBC concerts - classical music's future is safe, don't worry about that.

Radio Three remained an oasis of unabashed aesthetic rigour, making Classic FM sound like the aural equivalent of a restaurant that only serves desserts. It's rendered intolerable to me by relentlessly inserted advertisements which destroy any mood the music was presumably designed to create.

But to end on an upbeat - there are so many good people around us and if I tried a more comprehensive list, from artist Hannah Sawtell and humorist Stewart Lee onwards, you'd need more pages than the Morning Star can afford. So I'll leave it there.

There's a promising 2014 ahead, for those with eyes to see and ears to hear.

Happy new year, folks.


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