Hi, yeah s’me, keeping up the Song of the Day feature like dedication was as word I know the definition of!
No excuses not to, I mean I am of the generation when Roy Castle clasped his trumpet weekly, ready for the signing off of “Record Breakers.” No, it’s not a euthanasim, Google it whippersnappers.
Might also explain my fondness for brass. Brass is class, and a vital element of ska. Yep, four tunes in and I couldn’t resist sharing some ska with you.
It’s a commonly misguided notion that ska is a retrospective cult here in England. It tends to convey a bygone era of Two-Tone records, boots and braces.
Yet today, while said stereotype has a grounding, ska is an international phenomenon, particularly in South America. I did write a piece about this region’s love for ska, and how it’s roots out of Jamaica bare a different tale from our own.
To show you how fresh it can be elsewhere in the world, and it’s not a reminiscence for a
load of overweight balding pensioners as perceived in the UK, here’s all-female bar one Mexican band, Girls Go Ska, who I’m secretly in love with, (so secret they don’t even know themselves….until they use Google translate!) doing an instrumental jam.
Girls and ska; what’s not to like? Have a lovely rest of your day. Very good. Carry on….
- Bit of a Shindig; The Most Luxurious Festival in The West?
Glamping and other plush extras add to the allure of a modern-day festival, but how far are you willing to go to make your festie experience that bit more luxurious? Established dance festival Shindig, which takes place 26th-29th May in the glorious grounds of the Dillington Estate in Somerset, boasts the only festival in the UK with a hotel on site, and I don’t mean slumming in a Travelodge!
“You can either stay in the beautiful main 18th Century Dillington House,” they announced, “or in the incredible contemporary Hyde complex.” The Superior Rooms are the largest and most luxurious, which are mostly found in the Hyde. Many come with their own private decking or balconies with views over the stunning Somerset countryside. Plus, hotel guests have their very own entrance straight into the festival, so you won’t miss any of the action.
And that action is headliners De La Soul and Roy Ayers, with a massive host of live acts and DJs, including Nightmares on Wax, and Don Letts with Terry Hall, its own after-hours nightclub with Goldie playing among others, and a general good vibes atmosphere where the entire family is catered for. There’s the Kids Kingdom, which will be fully programmed with activities to keep them busy during the day, and performance shows and cinema for kids.
Okay, big question, yeah, hotel rooms start from £1,000 for four nights bed & breakfast, but this includes secure parking, room service, bar and restaurant. Other boutique camping options are bell tents, yurts and squirts, airstreams, or bring your own camper with a £70 in advance ticket.
All this wows me, how far the festival scene has come, and Shindig truly is a testament, for the glitzy side of dance music. But in this, it got me reminiscing of the downside to festivals of yore, lying flat in the cheapest prism one-man tent money could buy, with a burnt-out tealight, a little pond of muddy Special Brew and grass blades, telling myself it was all part of the festival experience!
Once, camping halfway up the side of an Andalusian Mountain, graduated to a dome tent, yet having to anchor my feet in the sleeping bag in a bottom corner and fasten myself diagonally across, supported either side by my rucksack and other paraphernalia, in order to prevent waking to find myself, and all my gear too, slumped into the bottom corner like I did on the first morning!
I find myself thinking back to people-watching at a bygone murky Glasto, where within the mud-drenched surrounding akin to an apocalyptic movie, I perchance to spot a glamorous young girl dressed totally in white, white leggings, white top and trainers. She was just standing there, in the midst of it all, spotless and looking horrified at the desolation around her. With frazzled mind I had to ponder how she’d even got that far, I mean, without resembling everyone else, who were covered head-to-toe in mud and shit.
The only conclusion I could muster was teleportation, but I’m now certain of one thing, that chick needed Shindig, possibly more than anyone! Phew, if I were her, or you, I’d get my ticket here, forget the past and relish in the festival indulgence of a new era!
- Mobius Loop Launch Anti-Hunt Song
Nationwide hunt saboteurs and animal rights activists have inspired those gypsy-folk misfits, Mobius Loop to create this righteous tune, the Foxtrot Tally Hoedown; and we love it here at Devizine.….
I love it because despite social and political injustices linger, as it ever did, rarely does the mainstream music industry reflect this, whereas topical songs of protest and political commentary were the backbone of subject matter in times of yore; and yeah, I’m old enough to remember, just!
From the Clash and Linton Kwesi Johnson to The Levellers, songs of freedom which were once commonplace are reduced to the underground, and one has to ask if returning to an era where mainstream musicians speak out is needed now more than ever before. All we can do is encourage them, and this is indeed encouraging.
We’ve seen the trend back on the agenda, through folk, punk and ska genres; hats off to bands like Five Iron Frenzy, Boom Boom Racoon and Mobius Loop, the latter of whom say they’re “on a mission to raise positive vibrations, projecting an organic co-operative voice for humanist spirituality, vegan philosophy, grassroots philanthropy, true democracy and alchemical magic, in the name of Hemp Redemption and the infinite unknown.” Boom-shankar to you, guys!
The penetratingly energetic folk blended with conscious rap gives this tune serious clout, as it meanders onto all forms of animal cruelty and veganism. Whatever your view of vegans, you’ll remain toe-tapping through Veganuary! The song comes from their album 2020 Vi5on, which you can buy from their website, here, or stream here.
Using national footage of hunts and protests, they’ve produced a no-holds-barred video to prompt the tune, which includes scenes from our own county’s Boxing Day bash-a-sab fest in Lacock. It’s received applause from local hunt sab groups, but again that’s preaching to the converted when its those sitting on the fence it needs to reach. This symbolises my agony at the current music industry and how it operates; what’s the point in singing cliche boy-meets-girl slush when there’s injustices and transgressions happening across our green and pleasant land?
All we can do is share and publish as much as possible, to raise awareness there remains positive and rebellious vibrations through contemporary music, and praise that this Preston band of nonconformists are truly kicking up a storm nationwide with their eruptions of free-form dance, charged with intimately powerful live performances, and I say, good on ‘em, hunting must end, now.
- Bath Reggae Festival Ticketholders Still Await Refund
Ticketholders for the hugely publicised Bath Reggae Festival still awaiting a refund after the festival was cancelled in August last year are getting understandably disgruntled, as the organisers are reportedly unresponsive to emails and messages….
Like many others, I jumped on this when first announced in November 2020. With a real community feel to their reggae scene, and Fairfield House, where Emperor Haile Selassie I spent five years in exile, what location in the southwest could be more apt to hold a reggae festival than Bath?
Wowed but slightly dubious when I saw the inaugural festival announce their line-up later in the month, for a first-time festival it seemed too good to be true. Legends of reggae were billed; Maxi Priest, Aswad, Big Mountain, Dawn Penn, Hollie Cook, Sister Nancy and more. Due to Covid restrictions the event was postponed from June to August, but over 2,000 reggae fans were disappointed to learn, due to the organisers being unable to source port-a-loos, the festival at Kensington Meadows in the city was again called off.
Spokesperson for event organisers, VIP Productions, Jack Wilkinson told the BBC at the time, “there has been a mention of September but again that can’t be guaranteed.” VIP put out a plea on their Facebook page, encouraging ticketholders to retain their tickets as they would be honoured once a future date was arranged, but promised a full refund if not. This was the last post published on their Facebook page in August, as punters rally to inquire to their refund, and receive no response.
Some managed to obtain a part-reimbursement from their bank or PayPal, but I’ve yet to find anyone who actually received a refund direct from the organisers. I emailed the festival’s website and the messaged VIP Productions, to no reply either, but since discovered, according to the .gov site, the company dissolved in October. VIP also presented another similar reggae festival, same month, in Huddersfield, called Sunup, of which I can find no evidence of it happening either. Going on this, I’m sad to say, I wouldn’t hold out much hope, guys.
I would not go as far to suggest the whole shebang was a scam; the festival industry is not a swindlers’ market, as it is not enormously profit-making. An event of this scale takes hard work, dedication, experience and a huge pot of funds long before stages are erected, and folk are downing cider and chewing on falafels. Admin, marketing, council permissions and insurance are just some of the mountains of red tape you need to get through just to get your foot on the first run of the ladder, therefore there’s far easier methods of defrauding people.
Just one day prior to the event in August, Somerset Live reported VIP were “criticised for their last-minute approach and lacking basic information in the application, making it ‘extremely difficult’ for Bath and North East Somerset Council.” Somerset Live also spoke to a senior environmental health officer, Sara Chiffers, who expressed concerns, “we’ve had extensive dialogue with the organisers about elements of the event management plan that were unclear, contradictory.”
This would suggest my initial hesitancy was justified; perhaps their intentions were honourable, but they tried to run before they could walk. For to have one of these big names booked would have been enough for an inaugural festival, as you need to start small and build. You cannot run off looking at Glastonbury, Reading or Bestival, these are well established with generations of experience, if they book Bowie, or Bruce Springsteen it’s because they know they can, they know tickets will cover it. Festival organising is a massive risk, and fundamental organisers get an event co-ordinator with experience. But to fail over a trivial aspect like toilets is, aptly, a bit shit!
More so it looks bad, creating a riff between punter and organisers in general, and right now, this is the last thing the hospitality industry needs. I know of one festival organisation shut up shop because they depended on advance ticket sales to host the next event. An honourable, trustworthy little festival, and while I’d rather advocate folk entrust such organisers, stories like this are bound to create understandable uncertainty.
My advice would have to be, in order for the festival scene to thrive and especially for new-comers to become established, folk have to put their trust in events and buy tickets in advance. Yet I urge punters to use their noodle, be wary of festivals promising too much at one time, especially the first time, or events which may have sister operations elsewhere in the UK under a similar banner. But it is detrimental for the future of festivals that organisers remain faithful to their customers, that they insure there’s reserves for refunds should it fail, and that they keep in communication with the ticketholders in such an occasion, as it is not only the customers you are bothering, but other event organisers too; common decency really, isn’t it?
- Soultimate; The Piaggio Soul Combination
Hey you, with the comb in your back pocket, imagine if the Brand New Heavies were signed by Motown in 1964, and you’d be a smidgen near the awesome sound of the Piaggio Soul Combination. Sprinkle some talc on the dancefloor and I’ll give you lowdown on their scorcher of a new album, Soultimate, released on the 28th January on Area Pirata Records…….
From the Supremes-a-like opening bars of track one, Hang On, also the preceding single, you’ll be wishing you were in knee-high white boots and chequered mini skirt, I know I was! By name and nature, it’s so You Keep Me Hanging on, it might as well be a sequel. Yet despite it’s obvious retrospection, there’s something remarkably fresh and electrifying about it, reminding me of 1985, when Diana Ross detonated pop progression with the number one single, Chain Reaction.
But if Soultimate begins with the Kiss (keep it simple, stupid) ethos of the classic beguiling soul-pop Motown sound, there’s more in store as the album progresses; it gets far more complex than Motown’s manufactured sound, exploring mod culture from all aspects. It’s a glorious, uplifting start, though, projecting the happy-go-lucky atmosphere it carries throughout, and will force you to do the Watutsi; I know I did!
Consider mod subculture’s conception to be uniquely working-class British, while youthful cohorts at the time may’ve thought it something entirely innovative, hence the name, rather it cherrypicked existing principles, fashion and music from elsewhere. The music descended from Afro-American R&B, jazz and the ska sound from Jamaica, whereas the fashion arrived via Italy, from zoot suits to scooters.
Maybe this is payback, because The Piaggio Soul Combination hail from Pisa, Tuscany, where long-standing mod Marco ‘Piaggio’ Piaggesi combined the best singers and musicians of the local Latin-soul scene, including the breath-taking vocals of Lakeetra Knowles, who features as lead on the majority of tracks.
Second tune in is a quirky, beguiling nod to aforementioned contemporary scooter culture, with a subterranean piano riff, you’ll be doing the nose-holding finale of the Swim dance; I know I was!
From here, maintaining its catchiness, it graduates through Motown to a rawer, Stax sound, yet never without usage of the nu-jazztronica elements to keep it fresh; polyrhythms of tasty basslines, organ, groove-laden guitars and a tight horn-section. Five tracks in and things go up a Latino notch, with Se Llama Boogaloo, an irresistible son montuno number, definitely the most diverse song on the album, making it perhaps the standout.
As each element comes to the forefront, it tends to add to the overall sound of the subsequent tunes, and while a Motown influenced mainstay returns, there’s still evidence of the boogaloo and nu-jazz, Hitman being a prime example, where things nod to nineties Acid Jazz, hence my Brand New Heavies citation earlier.
Towards the end, Blindman and the instrumental Dome Slow in particular, tends off towards an electronic blues influences, preserving a continuous upbeat sixties’ mod vibe. Like beehive sporting Emily Capell, her niche being London pseudo-rap fashion amidst similar retrospection, with this melting pot of variation, the Piaggio Soul Combination wouldn’t suffer the “Duffy effect,” the noughties retrospective Welsh singer who failed to maintain her overnight success. For this is The Piaggio Soul Combination’s third album since 2017, though their debut for Area Pirata, and it’s a sparkly upbeat, highly danceable modern soul classic.
Within a burgeon reimaging of Northern Soul and scooter scenes of yore, the time is right for this entertaining collective, yet regardless of movements, the solid soul grooves laid here are era-spanning and tricky to pinpoint, best just do the funky chicken across your kitchen; I know I did, couldn’t help myself!
- Talk in Code; Young Loves Dreamers
Set to release their new single ‘Young Loves Dream’ on Friday 11th February across all digital platforms, Talk in Code are rinsing their inimitable and uniformed sound with anthemic pop goodness; it’s to be expected……
Coincidently, three years and one day ago Devizine reviewed this Swindon indie-pop four-piece’s album, Resolve, with the retrospective angle of eighties power-pop rock, yet subtle nods to indie shifts through the heady nineties. Though as the band progress through four further singles we’ve seen the latter dwindle and this take on a classic eighties sound coming through more and more.
Though Talk in Code is no tribute, this is progressive, refreshingly contemporary and exclusively perfected, a hi-fidelity ambience where instruments simply meld as flawlessly as those eighties’ gods of pop. An era of one-hit-wonders, accepted, but those who succeeded beyond this point did so by creating a defining sound, so no youth would confuse their Spandau Ballet with their Human League, and this is precisely where Talk in Code now stand; nowadays we compare their singles with their previous singles rather than cite influences, because their uniqueness is peerless.
The reason why, I consider, the band strive with matchless momentum on the local circuit, having headlined three of Wiltshire’s largest music events last year, the big named bookings of pop-fused Mfor at Lydiard Park, the memorable rock for cancer Concert At The Kings and Swindon’s homegrown talent showcase, the Shuffle. Also, it is why Talk in Code have shared billings with Scouting For Girls, Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Craig David, SAS Band, 10cc and Lindisfarne, why devotees are dubbed “talkers” and they’ve accumulated 180,000 Spotify streams, or added to over 700 Spotify playlists.
So, this new single, ‘Young Loves Dream’ is of no exception, it gloriously follows the formula, which is, as suggested, key to their brilliance. It booms straight in, breaks when it needs to and reaches an undefinable bridge, flowing nicely with steady BPMs, and a bright, uplifting vibe. As suggested by the title, it’s romantically themed, exploring the hopefulness of youth; an ode to the potentials of initial infatuation, prior to the twists and turns life throws at you. In that, the mood of the enriching instrumentation reflects the vocals sublimely, and will have you pondering that butterfly moment of early romance, you know the kind of emotion which will make you hug the pillow in their absence, as their scent lingers, or, oh, was that just me?!
Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, all the previous singles we’ve fondly reviewed can be found on this here Spotify link, and with this progressive new track, will make up part of ‘The Big Screen,’ Talk in Code’s second album, due on Friday 15th April, playing the launch at Swindon’s Level 3, Swindon, on Saturday April 16th 2022.
Just prior, I’m hopeful we can set up an interview with Chris and the band, one crucial question will be what’s in a name, as Talk in Code’s style is never cryptic, you need not untangle painstaking poetic wordplay, it is good, honest pop kept simple, and they do it so well it’s mainstream in the making. Love’s Young Dream takes this pattern and truly celebrates it, projecting positive evolution for this radical band.
- Singing Bishop with Stories to Tell Comes to St. Mary’s Devizes
If there’s one venue I’m delighted to pen an event preview for, this new year, it has to be St Mary’s Church in Devizes. The Invitation Theatre Company showed us the potential of this disused church way back when, when Jemma and friends aptly dressed as nuns for Sister Act, if I remember rightly?!
Since it’s been on the cards to convert St Mary’s into arts centre, and must be said, it’s been a rocky road to get this far. Now the venue is ready for singing Bishop of Ramsbury, Andrew Rumsey to showcase his musical and literary talents.
The event is in aid of the church regeneration fund, as Wiltshire Council and Salisbury Diocesan Authorities have given the go ahead for an extension to house additional facilities and the necessary changes to the interior.
On the evening of Saturday 22nd January, Andrew will be sharing songs and readings from his new book English Grounds: A Pastoral Journal in the 12th Century Church.
Appropriate for a Grade 1 listed venue, which has been a place of worship in Devizes for the best part of nine hundred years. Dr Rumsey’s new book is rooted in the Wiltshire landscape, exploring themes of place, spirituality and belonging in a series of short essays and photographs.
As well as being an author, whose writing centres on themes of place and local identity, the bishop is also a musician, with a longstanding interest in song writing and popular music. Former Literary Editor of The Times, Erica Wagner, describes his latest title as “a marvellous book, lit by faith, love and imagination”.
The event will be the first of a number planned at St Mary’s for 2022, as the innovative plans to transform the church as a hub for arts in the community take a step nearer, which is exciting news for Devizes.
Entry is £10, you can book at Devizes Books, or pay on the door.
- Bristol’s The Scribes Signed With Stimulus
If the brilliant evening with The Allergies at Devizes’ Muck & Dundar this month did anything more than cause me to dance my socks off, it also made me evaluate the risk of bringing hip hop acts to our often-insular market town. The Allergies certainly rocked the rum bar, deejaying funky hip hop beats, and drew a crowd, but I ponder the reaction to the boom-bap rap of the country’s upcoming trio, Bristol-based The Scribes. I would be interested on your views on this, I mean, would you buy a ticket for a hip-hop-based evening with The Scribes?
Have no doubts, we’ve been biggin’ up these lyrical geniuses for some time, but December sees them reaching a dizzy new height, of which we must congratulate them for. Fresh off the back of their forty-date summer tour, The Scribes are pleased to announce the group’s official signing with the incredible Stimulus Management Agency.
The festival favourites will be joining a star-studded roster full of the biggest names in hip hop including, Busta Rhymes, DJ Premier, Ghostface Killah, Jadakiss, KRS One, Megan Thee Stallion, Method Man, Mos Def, Nas, Pete Rock, Public Enemy, Redman, Slick Rick, Snoop Dogg, Timbaland, Wu Tang Clan and others. There’s even some I, an aging old skooler know on there, never really getting over It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back.
The Scribes will be part of the agency’s growing UK contingent alongside British hip hop legends Skinnyman, Rodney P, Dj Skitz and Klashnekoff. So this is not only great news for The Scribes themselves but UK Hip Hop universally.
A huge post-covid summer saw the act grace stages across the full length of the UK and further cement their reputation as a must-see act, with standout performances at Latitude Festival and The Great Estate drawing huge crowds to witness The Scribes’ critically acclaimed live show.
Signing with Stimulus is a clear sign that even bigger things are on the way for The Scribes, with a new tour kicking off on January 29th to celebrate the release of “The Totem Trilogy Part 2” EP, produced by Vice Beats and featuring US legends Dizzy Dustin (Ugly Duckling) and Akil The MC (Jurassic 5) that will take the group around the UK yet again.
Kevin of Stimulus Management said, “Stimulus is an exciting new talent booking agency and music management company covering a wide range of genres from Hip-Hop, R&B and Jazz to Reggae and Electronic music. We have an extensive roster of international musicians, vocalists, DJ’s and Celebrities for commercial or private events. We think The Scribes are a great addition to our UK Rap artists, we love their live show and they add something a bit different and special to our roster.” Yes, so do we at Devizine, and ask, you the reader, isn’t it time to welcome them to The Vizes?
- Baber and Wileman set to Chill
Meditatively strap yourself into a comfy recliner, as under his pseudonym Karda Estra, Swindon’s prolific experimental virtuoso Richard Wileman is in collaboration with Sanguine Hum keyboardist Matt Baber for an album taking their names as the title, Baber-Wileman. It’s released tomorrow (Monday 10th Jan 2022) on Kavus Torabi’s Believers Roast label.….
Under his own name, Richard projects acoustic folk songs, yet never without fascinating instrument experimentation, yet as Karda Estra soundscapes of surreal gothic and cosmic compositions evoke mood as a film score should.
With a pungent fusion of Zappa and Canterbury influenced instrumental compositions, Sanguine Hum was formed a decade ago from the ashes of the Joff Winks Band and the Antique Seeking Nuns. Known for complex ensemble work, reflective song-writing and distinctively striving instrumental pieces, Sanguine Hum’s defining characteristics owes much to Matt’s keys, who released his first solo album, Suite for Piano and Electronics on Bad Elephant Music in 2018.
The pair first met at RoastFest in 2011, where Sanguine Hum were performing, and soon afterwards, Matt and Richard did their first collaboration track, Mondo Profondo 1, which appeared on the Karda Estra album Mondo Profondo.
Returning to the studio together towards the end of 2020, initially intending to put a couple of tracks down, the sessions went so well, they continued co-composing through 2021 and the project evolved into this album, which is chilling me to the bone.
Richard’s long-time vocal and clarinet player Amy Fry also guest appearances on three of the nine enchanted tracks. At times, like the finale, The Birth of Spring, this sounds like it could’ve been recorded on a light dewed grassy knoll, under a troll bridge of a Tolkienesque landscape, at others a Kling Klang type Düsseldorf studio towards the end of the seventies, but the steam of this melting pot perpetually reeks of influences further and wider.
With Matt’s clear progressive-rock influence, tracks like Passing Wave and the penultimate Day Follows Night, hold woozy psychedelic swirls of a Hawkwind free festival, yet the classical piano concertos of Claude Debussy ring through interludes like Three Audio Slow and 2009.
It’s a wonderous journey, mellowly twirling through gorgeously uplifting, sometimes haunting soundscapes, as ambient as The Orb, as methodically composed as Mike Oldfield, as peculiar as The Art of Noise, as moody electronically progressive as Tangerine Dream, and melodically unruffled as Jefferson Airplane.
The second tune, after Karda Estra-fashioned haunting intro, sounding like a spooky film score by William Orbit, Souvenir is vocally a prime example of the folk-rock influence of Jefferson Airplane, but only a slight segment of styles blended here, of which the magnum opus of the album, Emperor combines all aforementioned elements sublimely. This one is as Mike Oldfield created Primal Scream’s Higher Than the Sun from Screamadelica; yeah, it’s that beautiful, all too beautiful!
- Devizes Town Band to Head on a Fantastic Journey
For their first outing of the year, Devizes Town Band plan to get all Phileas Fogg and beyond, taking the Corn Exchange on a fantastic journey from the depths of the ocean into space and everything in between, and you could onboard!
Since 1999, when the Alpha Wind Ensemble was formed, and Mike Ward of Bratton Silver Band joined as Musical Director a year later, rehearsals at the Wyvern Club led to the Devizes Town Band’s formation in 2001, and they gained permission from the Town Council to use the town crest.
The band came to its summit with 2019’s Spring Concert, Greatest Love Themes, which they state was their best to date; subtly complemented with professional audio and lighting. During lockdown the band stayed strong, rehearsing via zoom and vowed to make a monthly video, which can be found on their website.
Over the last few years, they’ve represented Devizes on the road, appearing at Poulshot Village Hall, Beechingstoke Manor, Avebury Manor, John Coles Park in Chippenham and Swindon’s Town Gardens, and return home to host Remembrance Service at Devizes War Memorial, as well as the celebrated Proms and Children’s Proms at Hillworth Park.
Back together tomorrow, they’ll be rehearsing music for this magical mystery Fantastic Journey set sail for Sunday 15th May 2022, 2:30pm at the Corn Exchange, Devizes.
We’ll let you know when tickets are up for grabs!
- Stormtrooper in a Teacup at Devizes Town Council
A Saturday afternoon, I’m trying to watch the new Boba Fett Star Wars series here, and what’s more important, I ask you; me being fair and impartial about a Handforth-Parish-Council-Zoom-meeting style squabble between Devizes Town Councillors, or the fate of the Tusken Raiders now the Hutt’s legacy has concluded on Tatooine?!
It’s rhetorical, full gone conclusion, yet being without endorsement I was quoted in local rag The Gazelle & Herod, I feel about as moderately involved as Salacious was in Return of the Jedi (he’s the giggling jester gremlin who lives in the folds of Jabba’s flab.)
To quote Obi-Wan, “I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible has happened!” No shit, Jedi; Devizes Town Council are trying to stop councillors posting so much as an amusing meme on social media, or least that’s the talk on social media, initiated by a town councillor!
Between North Ward Conservative Iain Wallis stating his case within the confines of his own Facebook group, Devizes Issues, I’m also chatting with East Ward Conservative Johnathan Hunter, in a kinda east coast/north side stand off. I’ve told them both what they need is a nice, Labour speaker to settle the score, but neither rose to the bait; typical Tories!
To begin I took Iain’s opinion as red, supporting his gallant efforts to project the happenings within DTC, as other councillors don’t use social media with quite the same efficiency. But Johnathan, concerned the local rag went to town with a one-sided scoop, “a half-story without the full facts and presented them in a way which couldn’t be further from the truth,” claimed, “the last thing anyone wants are restrictions in free speech or any type of so-called gagging, which would be absolutely unacceptable as well as plainly ridiculous.”
Yeah, that’s what I was going with, ridiculous. Ridiculouso, because while they’re squabbling between themselves over usage of social media, one has to ponder if they’re dealing with the issues they’re supposed to be dealing with; my nan would say “I’ll bash yer bleedin’ ‘eads together,” cos she resolved conflicts that way, that’s why there were never conflicts in the family.
Jonathan continued, he “would never oppose the use of social media. No one wants draconian restrictions or censorship; however, no single person should control the narrative. Iain provides excellent updates and info on social media, but is selective with rules and posts. I’m not a Guardian but there are some good people who want good stuff for the town. I think with social media groups there should be a more open approach and less controlling if counter views don’t suit a particular narrative.”
So, according to Johnathan, no one objected to a deadlock on social media usage, rather suggested it was controlled with equality for all councillors, and this has been blown out of proportion. “Totally blown!” he responded.
Devizes Town Council proudly announces on its website: In March 2020 the Council was re-accredited with a Quality Gold Award – which it has held since 2015 – demonstrating it delivers its services in a way which is at the forefront of best practice by achieving an excellent standard in community governance, community leadership and performance management.
Ah, that’s nice, but what of it, if the public doesn’t know what services it actually delivers? Where can you find out what’s happening at DTC?
There’s a website, with PDFs of minutes. Can I get the minutes of the meeting involving this outcry? “The 2017 policy is on the council website,” Johnathan tells me, “But as the proposals haven’t been approved, they are not in the public domain.” It’s a far slower process than despatching a Tweet, and besides, you’ve got to go find it, rather than it splash in your face via your phone.
I told Iain, “Folk don’t come (to meetings) as I suspect they believe they’ll succumb to hours of ‘article 234 on the agenda, Reg Smith wants to erect a weathercock on his shed…. type stuff. Ergo, we need a summary, which is exactly what you do, and most would be in favour of that, logically.”
“There is definitely a place for an officially DTC line and it should be on their Facebook page,” Iain replied. “DTC social media presence has improved significantly since the new community engagement manager took up her post.” Though compare Devizes Town Council’s Facebook page’s 1,073 likes, and 123 followers on Twitter, with Devizes Issues’ 14K members, understandable Mr Wallis’ posts there have tenfold the clout of DTC posting on its own page.
What they need is to take a leaf from Iain’s book, create a flourishing “group” rather than a “page” as it’s more open to discussion, and anyone can contribute. Then, and only then, can DTC say please keep social media posts about council matters on the DTC group. Jonathan agrees, “it needs to be improved.”
Hopeful if done it would put an end to the pettiness? Yeah, right. Iain gives me a ‘however’; “I think there is also the case for individual councillors to speak. We are not one council and we are not all bound to think and speak in the same way. We are bound by democratically made decisions but we don’t have to like them. We should be able to engage with the public and give our own views separately to the council’s official position.”
Totally agree with Iain on this one, though on their own platform rather than one they have created for “general purpose.” As the dispute of the impartiality of Devizes Issues is never-ending, it is up to the individual to note he controls that particular powerful Facebook page, and what is published are not agreements made by the entire council; akin to national media, who knows what to believe anymore?
Jonathan’s key concern is that, “an article has been written in the G&H and also posted by Iain, grossly exaggerating potential proposals and is therefore misinforming the public by using headlines like gagging order. The draft policy hasn’t even been debated and agreed in the relevant committee in Council.”
In a heartfelt counter-article placed on other local Facebook groups, which Johnathan says he’s “not allowed to share elsewhere,” he calls there’s “never been any intention to restrict debate, free speech or social media interaction – it’s crucial to have an ongoing conversation within the community and for the community.”
“What a sound social media policy would look like is one when no single individual controls the narrative, and/or censors free speech claiming that it doesn’t fit into the rules as it doesn’t suit a particular narrative. Many organisations are reviewing their social guidelines to also move forward with the times, especially in a world of misinformation.”
Newly elected in May last year, what we know of him is his hard-working community projects particularly during lockdown, in planning and committee responsibilities, his focus on building better provision for young people, and involvement in Greening Projects. “However,” he states, “I am not involved in any schemes to restrict free speech, censorship or that crass term ‘gagging order.’”
What we have here is a storm in a teacup, intended to belittle parts of the council by other sides. In my honest opinion, the argument is crass and misinforming, but not reflective of the good and hard work councillors are really doing behind the scenes.
Though those behind-the-scenes points need to be publicised impartially better than it is, and folk need to be made aware what they’re reading is the view of one councillor only when taking information from the Devizes Issues. We’ve covered the bias there in the past, my conclusion is, intentional or unintentional there is, despite denial from admin. It came to apex when I myself was banned for proposing it was wrong for the taxpayer to fork out the millions for the PCC re-election, and I stand by that notion as proof of censorship.
Same here I confess, if you were to suggest Supreme Chancellor Palpatine was right to manipulate the battle of Geonosis to escalate the Clone Wars, I’d have you banned, outright!
But in the Star Wars universe one councillor would saunter into The Mos Eisley cantina, and with one bout of laser gun battle would solve the problem, and that’s not usually the way it works in Devizes. “Devizes town council meetings actually sound that bit more exciting than I projected here,” I added to Iain’s musings on the episode, “do we bring our own weapons or are they provided?” It got two laughing emojis, which was all I was after, really, I don’t expect this to be solved anytime soon.
Might as well go for all three trilogies in one, and send yourself to a galaxy far far away than wait for a conclusion to this!