Monday, 14 July 2008

The evils of Britain

Taking a quick break from music, it's time to get political, with these two articles by one of Britain's most articulate and interesting journalists, Johann Hari (I'm not too sure what to make of all Mr Hari writes, but there is no denying he is a refreshing alternative to The Mail's legions of evil columnists). Basically, these two articles display and remind of why I hate two particularly nasty British institutions: the Conservative Party and, most of all (after all, at least the Tories are playing the part they were meant to play), the national tabloid press.

For me, our tabloids are currently undoubtedly the biggest stain on this nation's image, with the exception I guess of the Iraq War (I say I guess because the tabloids do actually annoy me more, the War's being going on for so long now it no longer manages to provoke outrage, which is precisely part of the problem).

There is nothing nice to say about our national gutter press. Xenophobia (fuck it, let's call a shoe a shoe in the case of the Daily Mail: it's racism), homophobia, cheap gossip, slander, intrusion into peoples lives... And lies. And more lies. Incessant lies, all in the aim of pushing forward a political agenda and making a lot of money along the way. Whether it's accusing Elton John of pedophilia, spying on a sick Lady Spencer, using racist slurs to attack our European neighbours and asylum seekers, spitting on gays and lesbians or accusing Liverpudlians of defiling corpses, there are few depths these rags won't resort to. It's enough to make you ashamed to be British.

Sadly, this is a matter that so reviles me as to limit my ability to properly write up a stinging critique. In these moments, it's best to turn to the pros. In these two texts, Hari effectively and powerfully denounces the attitudes of our press (and in the second case, the Tory party) for its attitudes towards foreigners and gays. It makes for disturbing reading to realises just how bigoted and unpleasant "newspapers" such as The Sun and The Daily Mail are. That they are the two most-read rags in the country is a rather damning statistic. The solution? None, sadly, short of a cull.


1) The asylum-hating press - and the politicians who appease them - have blood on their hands

Here's a real asylum scandal, far more shocking and savage than a few Romanians being allowed to slip into Britain. Yet you won't see this on the front pages of the more rabid British newspapers, and you won't hear Michael Howard ranting about it at the despatch box. Jhon Reyes thought he was safe when he made it to Britain's shores. He came from Colombia, a country riven by both fascist and communist paramilitary groups, and three of his relatives - including his father - had been hunted down and slaughtered. Jhon and his children were running for their lives.This country has particular responsibility for the human casualties of Colombia's civil war like Jhon, since the British government has destabilised that country for over 30 years. Britain is one of the main international enforcers of a crazed "war on drugs" that has handed the drugs trade (Colombia's largest industry and 40 per cent of its economy) to criminal gangs. They have proceeded to make the country ungovernable. Thirty thousand people have been killed in the past year in a Colombian civil war facilitated, funded and fostered by our failing "war" to keep cocaine off our streets. So when he arrived here, terrified, traumatised and indisputably a genuine asylum seeker, you might expect that we would treat him well. But the Home Office is run by a cowardly politician, David Blunkett, who will not challenge a right-wing press that has been condemned even by Ruud Lubbers, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, for inciting violence against asylum-seekers.

Blunkett instead chose to appease our own domestic far right by being so "tough" that Jhon was forced - with your tax money and your police force - on to a plane back to Colombia. Blunkett claimed that Jhon would be safe if he went to a different part of the country - a statement that was obviously nonsense to anybody who knows anything about Colombia. The Home Secretary was warned by the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns that he was potentially sending a man to his death. He ignored them. So on Monday afternoon, Jhon was tracked down by the paramilitaries and shot. It is pure luck that he was not killed; he expects the gunmen to return. Over a dozen asylum-seekers were deported from Britain to their deaths last year. The asylum-bashing press and the politicians who give in to them have blood on their hands.The British press has created a hate-filled culture where even centre-left politicians behave like this.

I saw the distortion machine at work when I was invited on to Littlejohn, the Sky News TV show presented by the Sun columnist Richard Littlejohn. He is a journalist who almost every week incites hatred against people fleeing torture. He jeered about the Rwandan genocide and the refugees fleeing it, asking: "Does anyone really give a monkey's about what happens in Rwanda? If the Mbongo tribe wants to wipe out the Mbingo tribe then as far as I am concerned that is entirely a matter for them." He has even suggested we should be pleased if refugees drown on their way to Britain. I was invited to appear on his programme against a British National Party thug who was standing in a council by-election that night. I was initially inclined not to go, but then I realised that it was an opportunity to ask Littlejohn some questions. For him to present himself as a neutral arbiter between the BNP and non-fascists was so absurd (and typical of Rupert Murdoch's empire) that I thought I could have a chance to expose that too. After all, BNP leader Nick Griffin has described Littlejohn as his favourite writer. The hero of Littlejohn's semi-literate "novel", To Hell in a Handcart, says, "Don't give me multi-fucking-culturalism. The only culture these pikeys have is thieving."

Littlejohn makes a great fuss about condemning the BNP as a "rabble", but what exactly in their political programme does he disagree with? No, Littlejohn pumps out the anti-asylum sewage and the rats of the BNP inevitably feed on it. With this in mind, I arrived on the set. He was already ranting about me, saying to his producer that I was "a nutcase". I coughed politely. He twitched and shook my hand. As we were waiting, I thought I would have some fun with the notoriously homophobic Littlejohn. "My friend Peter Tatchell really likes you," I said softly as we were waiting. He shifted awkwardly. "Oh. Does he read my columns?" "No Richard, he really likes you." (Apologies to Peter. It was for a good cause). Silence. With that, we started the show.

The BNP fool was very easily dispensed with. I pointed out he hadn't sued the Evening Standard after it was revealed that he was a convicted football hooligan banned from his local grounds for screaming abuse at black people, and he simply blustered. No non-racist was going to vote for him. So I asked Richard how much a single asylum seeker is given in benefits each week. You'd think that a journalist who writes about asylum twice a week would, of course, know something so incredibly basic. His response was clear. He snapped: "I have no idea". No idea. I pointed out that he refers constantly to asylum-seekers being "hosed down" with benefits. He implied in his novel that they are given hundreds upon hundreds of pounds a week. Shouldn't he try to find out some facts before he writes his far-right propaganda? (By the way, they are given £37.77 a week, 30 per cent below the poverty line. This is the fortune that Littlejohn and his friends - the bulk of the British press - says people are flocking to Britain to claim.) He began to howl: "It's people like you who help the BNP!" He declined to talk me through the mysterious process by which people who peddle urban myths, exaggerations and prejudice about asylum-seekers are really stopping the BNP, and people who correct those distortions are helping them. I kept offering him facts, like the simple truth that the Association of Chief Police Officers has stated that asylum-seekers do not commit more crime than anyone else. Or that asylum-seekers and immigrants make a net contribution to the UK economy of £2.5bn a year - saving us the equivalent of a penny on income tax. Littlejohn's response was to accuse me of staging "a student prank".

Soon we were off air, and Littlejohn started to screech at his producers. "I told you not to ask him on! I told you not to ask this nutcase on to my programme!' He looked genuinely upset. I tried to explain that if he doesn't want to be humiliated he should make his articles correspond with reality. He began to howl, and one of the floor managers suggested I leave. Littlejohn - and the countless other journalists inciting hatred against asylum-seekers - justify their behaviour by saying that they are simply reflecting the prejudices of their readers. When the Daily Mail said in 1938 that "the way stateless Jews from Germany are pouring into this country is an outrage", no doubt many of their readers agreed too. No doubt many believed the stories about Jews carrying diseases, exploiting our hospitality and committing evil crimes.That doesn't stop it being a litany of lies. Most of Britain's asylum-seekers in the past decade came here from Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, Somalia and Iraq. They are no more thieving crooks than Jews fleeing Hitler.The distortions of the asylum-haters have now created a climate in which the British state is handing men like Jhon Reyes to murderous gunmen, and it is not considered a national scandal. Well done, Richard.


Twenty years and an eternity ago, the final official piece of anti-gay prejudice was signed into British law. Its name was Section 28, and it ruled that local councils – including their schools, libraries and social services – could not “promote” homosexuality. Councils were forbidden from saying that we were “normal”, and from approving of our “pretended family relationships.” The consequences scarred and infected the lives of a generation of gay men and lesbians in this country – and even though its corpse has now been tossed onto the bonfire of history, the stench still hangs over Britain’s playgrounds today.

The strange story of Section 28 begins in the 1980s, when a young new wave of left-wing Labour councilors began to emerge in London. They were the first to ever come of age in a country where you could be openly gay and not be sent to prison. They looked out over the city – teeming with out gay people who flocked here from all over the world – and saw that there was still a spiked chain holding us back. A gay teenager was six times more likely to self-harm than his heterosexual twin brother. And worse still, a new sexually transmitted disease, AIDS, was beginning to rip through the gay community – but homosexuality wasn’t even mentioned in the sex education lessons at 82 percent of our schools.

That’s why a few councils decided it was immoral to stand inert while gay kids killed themselves and more and more young men contracted HIV out of ignorance. So they began to distribute bland, cosy literature explaining to children that gay people exist and they aren’t anything to be frightened of. A typical example was called ‘Jenny Lives With Eric and Martin’, which showed a four year old girl living with two daddies. She ate breakfast with them, she made cakes with them – wild stuff. And for older teenagers, there were leaflets explaining safe sex, and helplines where they could receive counseling.

A sudden tsunami of bile smashed into the councils responsible. They were savaged by the tabloid press as the “loony left” and “militant perverts.” The Sun newspaper announced that “benders” and “poofs” were trying to “recruit children” by “distributing filth.” The stories inverted reality, claiming that the people trying to prevent homophobic bullying and protect children from violence were “gay bullies” and “homosexual fascists” from whom children needed “urgent protection.” In a typical article, the Daily Mail’s Gerald Warner warned against “the paedophile aggression of loony-left London boroughs” who were pumping out “the propagandist machinations of a homosexual underclass.” He said that gay people’s “invert psychopathology seeks to subvert society in favour of their recently decriminalized subculture” and he concluded that if the uppity gays didn’t shut up, “the normal 95 percent of the nation” should begin to call for “the recriminalization of homosexual activity.”

The Conservative Party piled in behind them. Rhodes Boyson MP demanded action against the councils, saying: “It is wrong biblically, is homosexuality. It is unnatural. Aids is part of the fruits of the permissive society. The regular one-man, one-woman marriage would not put us at risk in this way. If we could wipe out homosexual practices, then Aids would die out.” Nicholas Fairbairn MP said in parliament that homosexuality was “a psychopathological perversion” based on “inserting your penis into another man’s arsehole.” At the height of the backlash, a London newspaper called Capital Gay had its offices burned down by anti-gay arsonists – and a Conservative backbencher said the arsonists were right. In parliament Elaine Kellett Bowman said of the attack: “There should be intolerance of evil!” A few months later, Margaret Thatcher made her a Dame.So a few peers in the House of Lords decided to take a stand. In 1986, the independent peer Lord Halsbury introduced a Private Member’s Bill to bring these councils to heel. He said that “sick” homosexuals – who are “reservoirs” of disease – needed to be stopped. The proposal failed, as almost all Private Member’s Bills do, but Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher thought it was such a good idea she picked it up and made her government push it through. In her 1987 conference she expressed her outrage that children “are being taught they have an inalienable right to be gay.” Instead, she said, they should be instilling “traditional moral values.” And so Section 28 was born – a hard, go-to-prison ban on “promoting” homosexuality.

What did this mean for ordinary gay kids across Britain? Adam Powell, 49, is a heterosexual English and PE teacher who taught in a comprehensive school in Ealing at the time. He explains how Section 28 made him unable to protect gay children. “You would hear kids calling each other ‘poofter’ or ‘queer’ all the time, but you felt your job was on the line if you challenged it,” he says. “There’s one kid I still think about because I feel so ashamed that I didn’t do more. He was a quite effeminate boy, and very clever. The other kids would pick on him. Obviously if they attacked him – which they did pretty often – I would intervene and punish them. But the name-calling, the isolation… I didn’t do anything about that. I wanted to intervene and say – if he is gay, so what? There’s absolutely nothing wrong with it, it’s a fact of life, get over it. I would challenge racist kids if they called somebody a ‘Paki’ or whatever, and it worked. They would stop. I could have stopped that homophobic abuse, and I didn’t.” After attacking one of his bullies with a pen-knife and then trying to cut his own wrists, the boy was expelled from the school. Powell doesn’t know what happened to him. This was far from an isolated incident. A Stonewall study in 2000 found that 56 percent of teachers said they had difficulties in addressing the needs of gay and lesbian students as a direct result of the legislation. The gay journalist Alex Bryce remembers what it meant for him. “I was in the throes of puberty, with my hormones in overdrive and I was starting to develop an awareness of my sexuality,” he says. “As my own feeling were not explained or even mentioned in the sex education lessons, for the first time in my life, I began to feel different. After one particular PSE lesson I plucked up the courage to stay behind after class to talk to my teacher. I remember packing away my things slowly and carefully choosing my words. ‘Miss, what do men who are attracted to men do in bed?’ I asked. The teacher looked slightly concerned by my question. ‘I would really like to talk to you about this, but I’m legally obliged not to,’ she said with genuine regret. This was my personal encounter with Section 28. What could have been a turning point for me, allowing me to feel acceptable and ‘normal’, left me isolated and confused at a time when I was particularly vulnerable.”

And so a generation of gay children were left to be bullied, and in ignorance of the terrible threat of STDs. We will never know how many people contracted HIV as a result – but we know there are some. The UK Gay Men’s Sex Survey in 2003 – commissioned by the Terrence Higgins Trust – found that one third of 20 year-old gay men, the children of Section 28, did not even know the most basic facts about HIV transmission. Some 51 percent didn’t know that HIV is more likely to be passed on if he or his partner has another STD; 31 percent did not know that water-based lubricant reduces condom failure; and, incredibly, 14 percent did not know that HIV is more likely to be passed on if a man ejaculates inside his partner. Several AIDS charities believe there is a trail of infected blood that runs right back to Margaret Thatcher.

Whenever Section 28 and its hateful backers dominated the news, the rate of gay-bashings was ramped up – but the gay fight-back was as brave as the assaults were cowardly. Gay activism became bolder and bigger than at any time in British history. Thirty thousand people marched on Westminster. Ian McKellen – one of Britain’s most famous actors – was so horrified he felt he could no longer remain in the closet; he was followed out by Eastenders star Michael Cashman, and a battery of others, declaring that in the age of Section 28 everyone had to stand and be counted. A group of lesbian protestors abseiled into the chamber of the House of Commons to disrupt the parliamentary debate of the Clause, and they later burst into the live broadcast of the six o’clock news. Thousands of people banded together to form Stonewall, still the most high-profile and high-impact gay lobbying group in Britain. The gay community’s most successful weekly gay newspaper, the Pink Paper, was set up to report on the savage backlash against gays.The legislation always seemed to reveal a strange insecurity on the part of its fans about their own sexuality. Did they really think children could be ‘taught’ to be gay, like they are taught the ten times table? In 2005, I asked Michael Howard – who piloted it into law as the Local Government Minister – if he thought he would be gay today if his teachers had “promoted” it to him. He said, “Well I think that there are some people who could be influenced. Who could go either way. I think there is a question about the extent to which people can be influenced…” He trailed off, with a little shrug of embarrassment.
At first, the Labour Party supported Section 28 out of fear of being tarred with the “loony left” brush. But it soon regained its moral compass and began to call for its repeal. The Conservative Party swooped in to use this as a wedge issue against them. Norman Tebbit drew up an election poster showing a shelf-full of gay books and the slogan: “This is Labour’s idea of a comprehensive education.” They accused Labour of supporting “perversion.”Britain’s religious establishment rallied behind the Tories. Cardinal Thomas Winning announced: “It pains me to use the word perverted when discussing the homosexual act but that’s what it is. I will not stand for this sort of behaviour.” He compared gay people to the Nazis, saying: “In the place of the bombing of fifty years ago you find yourself bombarded with images and ideas which are utterly alien.” Today this seems like an act of psychological projection: he was, after all, a senior figure in a Church that was riddled with real perverts and paedophiles who were committing the mass rape of children under Winning’s own nose.The Tories and the religious – from the Chief Rabbi to the Muslim Association of Britain – stayed with Section 28 to the end. Labour came to power in 1997 committed to repealing the anti-gay law. Tony Blair said: “I guess, reading the newspapers, that repealing Clause 28 is not popular, but we are doing it because it is the right thing to do. The truth is that this campaign is based on people who do not want to openly say they are prejudiced against gay people, so they hide behind the issue of child protection.” The Conservative leader William Hague called this “politically correct nonsense”, and said bizarrely that “true tolerance means a minority accepting the experiences and beliefs of the majority.” He ordered his party in the House of Lords to hold up the repeal for years.The most senior figures in the Conservative Party today are still tainted by their association with Section 28. The Tory mayor of London, Boris Johnson, defended it, even though in his recent interview with Attitude he didn’t seem to actually understand what the law was. The current Tory leader, David Cameron, voted for it at every opportunity, and used the issue in his election literature to attack his Labour opponent.

The law was finally, at last and at least, abolished in 2004 – but its consequences live on. In every other area of British life, attitudes towards gay people have been radically transformed. Yet in our schools, anti-gay prejudices were preserved in the formaldehyde of Section 28. The fight against homophobia is only now beginning in our playgrounds – after it has been largely won in the places where it could be legally challenged, like the workplace. Stonewall found recently that 80 percent of schools admit they have a problem with homophobic bullying – but only 6 percent have a policy to deal with it.Let end with the story of one boy – one of many – who paid the price for Section 28’s stalling. Jonathan Reynolds was a 15 year-old from Bridgend, South Wales, who came out to some of his closest friends in 2006. They blabbed – and he was bullied and harassed and threatened as a "faggot" and a "poof" until he couldn't take it any more. His school had no policy in place to protect gay children; any move to develop one had been squashed by the vast legal block of Section 28, and hadn’t recovered in time for him. So one day, after he sat a GCSE exam where he earned a starred A grade, he lay down on the train tracks near his home. He texted his sister Sam: "Tell everyone that this is for anybody who eva said anything bad about me, see I do have feelings too. Blame the people who were horrible and injust 2 me. This is because of them, I am human just like them. None of you blame yourself, mum, dad, Sam and the rest of the family. This is not because of you." Then a train sliced his body apart. Jonathan Reynolds’ final text message – his last cry of “I am human” – should serve as the obituary for the late, un-great Section 28.

My note (Lonely Planet Boy): Most interesting in this last article is the points that the two most visible Tories, Boris Johnson and David Cameron, one recently elected as London Mayor, the other the next Prime Minister of the UK, both supported Section 28 up to its demise. This, the same loveable BoJo that seduced the capital's voters and who was editor of The Spectator, a magazine that regularly featured articles by self-described racist Taki during Boris' tenure. This, the same friendly "Dave", who is supposedly putting a friendly face on the Conservatives. This article I hope shows that the Tory part hasn't actually changed since the eighties. If you're gay, please don't be fooled just because they count Alan Duncan in their ranks. This is still the party of Portillo, Widdecombe and Tebbit. It's still the party of Section 28.

Monday, 7 July 2008

Hop Farm Festival 2008

Hello angels!

Before continuing on with Slowdive and the shoegaze movement, I would like to take a mini-detour to post my thoughts and feelings on the Hop Farm Festival, which took place on July 6 in a lovely corner of the Kent countryside. The bill was solid: Primal Scream, Supergrass, My Morning Jacket, Rufus Wainwright, and my own personal god Neil Young. How could I not attend?

Well, the weather would have been one reason not to. I guess it's all part of the Festival fun, but fuck me did it pour down. And personnally, I can think of a number of things that I'd rather do than spend nearly four hours getting soaked. I love rock'n'roll, but that's just taking the piss. And it just wouldn't let up! It was like the meteorological equivalent of Jim Davidson: unpleasant and relentless.

I had arrived early, to make sure I caught every act, and must first tilt my hat at the sterling organisation. A bus picked us up at the station, there was no queue to get in (the perks of getting there early, maybe) and every act was pretty much on time. Plus, the bars were nice, the food varied and interesting, and the sound was great for an outdoor venue. Thumbs up to the organisers!

But, by the time the first act, the pretty decent country-rock quintet Everest, came on, it was pissing down. Despite my hood and umbrella, and their excellent set (well, for a first band on, it was tight, smooth and melodic - can't really ask for more at 12.30 in the afternoon!), it was pretty dispiriting, so I went to take refuge under a tree during the second set, by folky 18-year-old singer Laura Marling.

So, it was on to Guillemots, an atypical "new rock" act, who have somehow managed to take the tired Franz Ferdinand - Razorlight - post-Strokes sound and inject a little originality by adding a sense of fun and wackiness most modern bands desperately lack. I can't say I like all their songs, but singer Fyfe Dangerfield is impossibly charismatic and funny, and they have a Flaming Lips-ish vibe and several lush, over-the-top melodies that worked like clockwork on my senses. Latest single "Get Over It" is a pounding, unrelenting, shouting bit of pure hard-pop energy, but it was the epic duo of "Trains to Brazil" and lengthy closer "Sao Paulo" that really got me going. The music is lush, with gently shifting and subtle rythm patterns, and an overload of bonkers sounds that at times even had me thinking of Roxy Music at their peak. No small compliment. Plus, Fyfe has a cracking voice, a bit like Thom Yorke, only madder and less overblown. "Sao Paulo" was actually stunning, as the band let rip, bringing on a bunch of roadies to bang away on random percussion as Fyfe punished his keyboards and the guitarist wailed away like an indy Kevin Shields. Shame about the rain...

Next up was Rufus Wainwright, after I'd refreshed myself with a surprisingly tasty burger (funny what seems delicious when yer knackered and cold!). He's always reliable to give a good show, even on his own, as was the case here. He played his most distinctive songs ("My phone's on vibrate for you", "The Art teacher", "I'm going to a town"...), in his glorious tenor, which is just as arresting live as on record, adding a little bit of camp glamour to the otherwise muddy event. And, just as he rolled through a gorgeous rendition of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah"... the sun came out!!!!! This prompted whoops of glee from the crowd and added a moment of simple poetry to the day, especially as it remained mostly clear until the end. Thanks Rufus, you bring the sunshine into all our lives!

At this stage, I have to admit to feeling butterflies in my tummy. The reason was that My Morning Jacket were the next act, and I always feel nervous when a band I love is set to perform, especially if it's the first time I'm seeing them. Will they deliver the goods? MMJ are also relatively under-appreciated in the UK, so I was willing them to kick off this crowd's introduction to them with a bang. Thankfully, I needn't have worried! Although I can't say I'm that keen on the material from their latest album Evil Urges (decent enough tunes, but not memorable, and a couple of them were too soul-inflected, never a good idea if you're a white rock band. Only Todd Rundgren and Antony Hegarty can really pull off white boy soul, guys!). But the tunes from Z, my personal fave by these Kentucky-ites, were just stunning when subjected to the live treatment. Here, Jim Jones fabulous high voice soared out on the wings of his superbly crafted melodies, drenched in reverb, but always powerful, whilst around him the whole band blasted out the album's thumping alt-rock with a fervour and energy that only Neil Young would surpass later. The guitars squealed and roared, Jones prowled the stage like Gary Rossington in his prime and the keyboardist ripped weird and wonderful noises out of his machines like Eno in full flight (ok, maybe not quite, but still). "Off the Record", "Anytime" and "Wordless Chorus" deserve classic status, in my books, and these guys proved just why rock remains the ultimate live music with this all-too-short high-octane set. Rock on!

And now, it's confession time. I have to admit that I had actually managed to confuse Supergrass with The Stereophonics! Either way, I had little interest or familiarity with the music that came next (collective gasp from Brit-pop fans, who supposedly look at Supergrass as legends). Instead, I took advantage of their set to catch up with some friends and have a wee and a pizza (not at the same time). I did bop away to "Alright", but, given how static these veterans were, I was quite happy to do so from a distance.

The same kind of goes for Primal Scream. I know they are the darlings of the UK indy scene, but (second confession), I'm not that fussed. They have some good tunes, but few that have ever stood out in my mind, and like their predecessors, I found them rather static. I know that this means they supposedly exude an overwhelming sense of cool-ness, but for me there's a fine line between seeming cool and seeming bored. So, I was happy to focus most of my attention on the vodka jelly shots a charming chap was selling at 5 for £5. If the band I'm watching seems bored, it tends to make me feel bored as well. Having said that, the rest of the audience was loving it, which meant for a great atmosphere, and I was very pleased to head towards the front of the crowd for "Rocks" and "Movin' on Up", which were actually better live than in the studio, and really had everyone jumping. Again, I won't be listening to either track at home, but I did enjoy hearing them belt out from the stage to the roars of thousands of adoring fans.

And so onto the big one. The Loner. Shakey. The Godfather of Grunge. Again, I could feel the butterflies. How would my idol hold up to the scrutiny of this youthful (ok, there were some oldies in there, but more than a few scrawny indy kids too) crowd, many of whom I suspected were mainly there for Primal Scream? The massive crush to get to the front suggested at least that he had a loyal following in there, and of course, I needn't have worried.

To put it succinctly: Neil. Young. Fucking. Rocks. I am beginning to think there is no-one quite like him out there. I'm pretty sure they must have been able to hear this set in Calais! He kicked off with a beyond-grungy version of "Love and only love" and never looked back. Old Black, his trusty Gibson Les Paul screamed, roared, squealed, moaned and howled over nearly ten minutes as the old fucker stamped around the stage, his face screwed up in an expression of sheer, what? Anger, hurt, delight? It's hard to tell with old craggly-face, and it doesn't matter. What matters is that no-one, not Elton, Macca, Dylan or Prince, plays with such fire and rage in their bellies as Young. And this was just the first song!

The stage set up, identical to the one from his Hammersmith Apollo show of a few months ago, had me wondering if I was going to get the same set. Again, why was I worrying? Have I no faith in the man? After all these years? What a cock! Some songs were the same, but there were enough surprises and jolts to have me grinning like a teenager whose just got laid for the first time and is about to tell his mates. "My My, Hey Hey" came next, and, if possible, things got louder. The feedback roared out of the speakers like a monstrous sonic kraken (a pretentious metaphor, I'm aware, but sod it), and I was half expecting earthquake reports this morning. These were My Bloody Valentine-worthy noise levels. We then got the first surprise in "I've Been Waiting For You", a song that goes back 40-odd years and still sounds like it could have been written by, oh, My Morning Jacket. Or Guillemots. Or fucking Primal Scream! Then came "Spirit Road", which continues to grow on me, especially when watching Neil, all of 62 years old, jumping up and down like Pete Townsend circa 1978. I can't enumerate all the delights. We had pure grunge, of Nirvana or Dinosaur Jr. intensity (only better than both) with "Fuckin' Up", a superb acoustic set (maybe slightly more predictable - "Old Man" and "Heart of Gold" are the only songs I believe he has played in all three gigs of his I've seen), and then a heart-rending finale.

I''ve seen Neil three times. Each time I've cried. And I was at it again as the thundering riff of "Words" rang out across the crowd. Who were enthralled - talk about blowing away the competition! I could actually see several jaded twenty-somethings turn and gaze goggle-eyed at their friends, stunned by the intensity and power of this old fogey and his equally ageing mates. They were like a gang, and his guitar was the gang-leader, exhorting its cohorts with each screaming solo or driving riff. And, y'know, it may not be what it was in 71, but Neil's voice still rings out strong and true, and "Words" was the perfect demonstration. It stretched out for over ten minutes, but even that didn't compare to what came next: his rousing new set-closer, "No Hidden Path", easily the stand-out track of Chrome Dreams II and of his live show. It just goes on forever! Each time you think the latest solo is the last one, he suddenly leaps back for more, dragging more and more notes and noises from his protesting axe. At the end, it had become a raging, boiling mass of feedback and squalls as Neil raged, "Ocean skies/Sea of Blue/Let the sand wash over you" over and over as the rain and wind battered at the stage and us poor souls, who couldn't give a care in the world, such was the trance he had us in. And yes, the tears flowed down my cheeks as the joy gripped my heart and I was yet again reminded of why Neil Young is the most important living music artist today.

His encore song, a ragged version of The Beatles' classic "A Day in the Life" that out-did the original in terms of sheer intensity and power, and even managed to be more psychedelic, as Young once again abused poor Old Black, and more and more twisted, elegiac notes sounded out across the Kentish valleys. He ended up ripping the strings off the neck in a possessed rage and pounding the poor axe on the floor to drag out even more feedback (as guitar tech Larry Cragg looked on in obvious horror), before storming off with nary a glance at either his beleaguered (but ecstatic) audience or his bandmates. Punk still lives! It's 62 years old and it's name is Neil fucking Young!

Afterwards, I wandered in a daze for a few minutes, still stunned, still overjoyed. Then it was time to pile into coaches and head back to London and normality. As we cruised past dark fields and empty office buildings, I put my iPod on and tuned into "Down by the River". To keep the dream alive a bit longer. Seeing a true rock legend, an icon, a legend, a hero, will do that for you. You just don't want it to end. Despite the ringing in your ears...