MJ Hibbett

John Kell Vs Satan – September 21s 2015

As a special treat for the final show of the series, I’ve uploaded it as recorded off FM, with thanks to my brother, complete with authentic hiss. This was a rare show where I thought the first hour was better – the second hour was a bit dominated by that extra edition of the TV Times, with a few too many themes crammed into it. There’s a preview track from the forthcoming album by MJ Hibbett and the Validators in the first hour too.


Actually there was a reason why I chose that last song, I just forgot! “Don’t paint the Devil on the wall,” indeed. To make up for the crashed vocal, I’ve blended the full length of the song into the end, beyond the fade out at 10pm as broadcast.

The Indiepop Pit Stop part deux

Remember the feature I presented on Sam Holloway’s CamFM show in the summer? Oh. Well anyway, Sam had another run over Christmas and new year, so here’s all four Indiepop Pit Stops on Mixcloud. The first two are Christmas-themed, so by all means skip to the second half if you prefer… Full tracklisting below.

Week 1

  • The Advent Calendar of Fact by MJ Hibbett and the Validators
  • Card From A Multipack by The Just Joans

Week 2

  • Xmas Bloody Xmas by TV Smith
  • Where Do Jam Jars Go At Christmas Time? By Misty’s Big Adventure

Week 3

  • Say It by Just Handshakes
  • Gay Goth Scene by The Hidden Cameras

Week 4

  • Function Suite by Gums
  • Black Tambourine by Withered Hand

Favourite tracks 2013 (1)

Here’s an 8tracks mix of singles, cuts from EPs and tracks from albums that didn’t make my top 10 (which I’ll be putting up here on the 31st, with another mix). I’ve split it into two, so there’s a second part to follow tomorrow – this one focuses pretty resolutely on indiepop, while the second one ranges a bit further. Enjoy!

  1. Gums – Function Suite (Antipathy EP)
  2. Darren Hayman – Old Man Don’t Waste Your Time
  3. Sparrow and the Workshop – Shock Shock (Murderopolis)
  4. The Crimea – Mid Air Collisions (Square Moon)
  5. The Beautiful Word – May Not Be Love (Particles)
  6. The Just Joans – Another Song About The Rain (6.9 Love Songs)
  7. MJ Hibbett and the Validators – I Want To Find Out How It Ends
  8. Colour Me Wednesday – I Thought It Was Morning (I Thought It Was Morning)
  9. The Tuts – Dump Your Boyfriend
  10. The Spook School – I’ll Be Honest (Dress Up)
  11. Fakebit Polytechnic – Hey Hey 16K (It Only Works Because You’re Hibbett)
  12. Art Brut – We Make Pop Music (Top of the Pops Disc)
  13. Future of the Left – Singing Of The Bonesaws (How To Stop Your Brain In An Accident)

The Indiepop Pit Stop

Indiepop Pit Stop summer 2013 by Johnkell on Mixcloud

pit stop rawHere’s one for fans of unintended consequences… Many a student radio station has made use of the community radio FM licences that became available in the mid-2000s, after I’d graduated. So my radio alma mater has transformed since I left it in 2003 from CUR1350 to CamFM. Snag is, the FM licences are a bit stricter about the amount of original content you need to produce than the old AM ones, and outside term time student stations can find it a bit tricky, for obvious reasons.

So it was nice to hear that station manager Sam Holloway – station manager back when I started, that is – was invited back to do a weekly show during the holidays. Even nicer, he asked me to select a couple of indiepop tunes to play each week, to add to his own mix of pop, rock, soul and “obscure funk”. Nicer still, this idea quickly grew into a full feature, for which I supplied the audio each week. It became the Indiepop Pit Stop.

So here’s every instalment – two tunes, with a link in the middle from me – all in a single mix on Mixcloud. I’ve included some of Sam’s links here and there, so you get a bit of a feel for how it went out. I especially enjoyed being able to play some tracks for the first time, or probably for the first time, on radio anywhere in the world – notably the new material by MJ Hibbett and the Validators and the Just Joans.

They might be asking Sam back over Christmas, and I’m already thinking of which indiepop Christmas songs to suggest… In the meantime, the link at the top of the post goes through to the full mix. Below as a taster is Sam’s excellent intro jingle, then the full running order of all the tracks played in the Indiepop Pit Stop (also visible on Mixcloud, if you just want to click through – they don’t seem able to make the player embeddable on WordPress, sadly).

August 8th

  • Angelica – Why Did You Let My Kitten Die?
  • Tigercats – Limehouse Nights

August 15th

  • The Crimea – White Russian Galaxy
  • Shrag – Show Us Your Canines

August 22nd

  • The Smiths – Girlfriend in a Coma
  • The Tuts – Dump Your Boyfriend

August 29th

  • Bis – Eurodisco
  • The Just Joans – Durex Puppy

September 5th

  • MJ Hibbett and the Validators – I Want To Find Out How It Ends
  • Frankie Machine – 54th and 3rd

September 12th

  • Hefner – The Sad Witch
  • Darren Hayman and the Long Parliament – Impossible Times

September 19th

  • The Wave Pictures – Seagulls
  • Pippi and the Butcherbirds – Michaela

September 26th

  • Ooberman – The Physics Disco
  • The Beautiful Word – Particles

October 3rd

  • Camera Obscura – Break It To You Gently
  • Belle and Sebastian – Lazy Line Painter Jane

Christmas mix (4) – Christmas originals, part two

I allocated songs between these three mixes randomly, but this has ended up with the fewest old standbys and the most songs that are still fairly new and unfamiliar to me… which probably means it’s the most obscure of all the mixes. Enjoy!

  1. Climber – Holiday Hoopla
  2. Sunturns – Hallelujah (Christmas is here)
  3. Action Biker – Vinden Susar i Advent
  4. The Low Countries – Carry on Christmas
  5. Paul Hawkins & the Bleak Midwinters – Tonight I Will Be Santa
  6. The Understudies – Midnight Mass
  7. Eux Autres – Teenage Christmas
  8. Nathaniel Forrester – My Snowman
  9. The School – Drummer Boy
  10. Ballboy – Merry Christmas to the Drunks, Merry Christmas to the Lovers
  11. Glam Chops – Countdown To Christmas
  12. The Violin Heirs – The Sound of Christmas
  13. Gruff Rhys – Post Apocalypse Christmas
  14. Ooberman – Why Did My Igloo Collapse
  15. The Werewandas – I’ve Got A Great Big Christmas Tree
  16. Bill Botting – Acting Without Acting
  17. The Very Foundation – All Lit Up For Christmas
  18. MJ Hibbett & The Validators – The Flashing Santa
  19. The Mountain Parade – Salvation Army Band

Christmas mix (2) – Christmas originals, part one

I’ve accumulated about 300 Christmas songs worth listening to over the years, my MP3 library tells me – many of them originals by indiepop bands and others, and almost entirely eschewing the Slades and Whams of the Christmas song world. I’ll be putting various 8tracks mixes of these on the blog pretty much every day over the next week.

I’ve selected about 50 of the best original songs and spread them over three 8tracks mixes. Here’s the first, starting of course with MJ Hibbett’s Advent Calendar of Fact…

  1. MJ Hibbett and the Validators – Advent Calendar Of Fact
  2. Piney Gir – Christmas Time
  3. The Cornshed Sister – Have A Good Christmas Time
  4. Misty’s Big Adventure – Where Do Jam Jars Go At Christmas Time
  5. Geoffrey and the Livingstones – Communist Christmas
  6. Mitch Benn and the Distractions – Broke the Bank This Christmas
  7. Caravan of Thieves – I Dont Want Anything for Christmas
  8. Fever Fever – Hallelujah Carol
  9. Jeff Mellin – Every Year
  10. Chalk and Numbers – Happiness This Time Of Year
  11. The Futureheads – Christmas Was Better in the 80s
  12. Diana Ross & The Supremes – Little Bright Star
  13. The Gresham Flyers – Mistletoe Misadventure
  14. The Rockey Nest – Five Golden Rings from the Hi Five Kings
  15. The Lollies – (You Can Make An) Angel Sigh
  16. Paper Tongues – Carol Of The Bells
  17. Otalgia – Empty Boxes
  18. The Black Arts – Christmas Number One
  19. Pretenders – 2000 Miles (It Must Be Christmas Time)

The Show that Never Was

In May this year I recorded what was meant to be the first of my shows on the new online channel CUR25, an online “afterlife” for those of us who presented shows on Cambridge University Radio up to the mid-2000s (the station was 25 in 2004, so you see what we did there…). Unfortunately, although I was expecting the channel to launch in spring, it still hasn’t gone live for one reason or another – it may yet happen, and will be very cool if it does.

The trouble is, my show is now so out of date that I can’t really use it as my first CUR25 show if it ever does happen. So I’ve created my own Mixcloud channel, and put the show up just so it can be heard. The playlist was this:

  • The Broken Family Band – Living In Sin
  • MJ Hibbett and the Validators – We Are The Giant Robots
  • Sharon van Etten – Serpents
  • Kathryn Calder – Waking in my Sleep
  • Robert Ellis – Westbound Train
  • Dire Straits – Eastbound Train
  • The Wave Pictures – Sugar Maple Charcoal
  • Moustache of Insanity – Postcards to Strangers
  • Ambrosia Parsley – The Other Side
  • Sleeper – Statuesque
  • Alistair the Optimist – In the Wake
  • Cornshed Sisters – Dance At My Wedding

Click here to listen.

If you’re wondering about the out of date bits: firstly, all the ‘new’ records aren’t that new any more. But more specifically:

  • the Ambrosia Parsley album is indeed going ahead, and she’s launched a successful Pledgemusic campaign to fund it
  • Tim Ten Yen has retired from performing and recording under that name, though you can still find him on Twitter.

Actually, you may have noticed there’s no Tim Ten Yen track in the list. That’s because I missed an entire link out when editing it together – the show should also have included:

  • Tim Ten Yen – Something Sinister
  • Piney Gir – It’s Our Time

Only just noticed that. What a clot.

So, there you have it. I hope to do more “radio” one way or another, either on CUR25 or just on my own Mixcloud channel. So you may yet hear some more John Kell Vs Satan, or even the other shows I had planned – the Heartbreak Half Hour and Since You’ve Been John. If you want to know what they’re about, well… stay tuned.

Indietracks 2011 – top festival moments

I’ve got a full review of this year’s Indietracks on the way, but here’s a quick set of some of the top moments that really stick out in my mind. Not to say they’re the absolute best sets – they’re among them, but there are plenty of other contenders, and frankly I didn’t see anyone all weekend who was anything short of really good… But these were the “moments” for me.

1. Help Stamp Out Loneliness and the balloons
Help Stamp Out Loneliness were one of the great highlights of the weekend. Their album is excellent, but takes quite a few listens for the songs to distinguish themselves from one another, as they have a dense (unkind reviewers said cluttered) backing. Not so live: Lucille is a compelling presence, absolutely central to the show both visually and vocally, a pale sexy wraith who commands your attention and won’t let it go. It helps that her towering voice is singing some brilliant pop tunes too.

Last year a load of hot air balloons drifted over the site on the Friday evening, and this year they came on Saturday, during HSOL’s set. One in particular was very low over the site: its occupants waved at us, and we waved back.

2. Hidden Cameras bassist
The Hidden Cameras put on a headline set that was every bit as brilliant as I’d hoped and expected. Add in that it was much later than planned and on a different stage, and it was quite something. During the song Underage, the band do some synchronised sideways pogoing, which is great; one of the moments of the festival came during this, when the bassist bounced a little too much to the right and fell off the stage – he quickly gave up any attempt to look cool and pretend nothing had happened, but kept playing.

3. Hibbett in the tent
I’m sure far too many people have already told Hibbett that this was really really good, so I’m not going to boost his ego any further. His ability to bellow through a set definitely didn’t come into its own, the audience clearly didn’t absolutely bloody love it, Boom Shake the Room (“I’m the driver and you’re all on a TWEE ride!”) and Easily Impressed (“Oi! Hibbett! Ya twat!”) in particular definitely weren’t among the best bits of the weekend, and the whole thing definitely wasn’t stupidly good fun.

4. Dan Pocketbooks and his pornographic playing cards
Between sets on the Sunday evening I ran into Hibbett and Dan Pocketbooks, as you do at Indietracks. Dan took the opportunity to produce a pack of pornographic playing cards from his pocket and flash them at me and Mark, for reasons that mystify me still. “There y’ go… Bet yer Dad didn’t show yer those, did he?” I couldn’t think of much to say other than to confirm that no, he didn’t.

5. Hidden Cameras acoustic
The silver lining to the cloud of the main stage generator packing up was that the Hidden Cameras did a short bonus acoustic set from the main stage, which I watched while eating the evening’s curry from Gopal’s. They were both lovely.

Why it’s OK to vote no to AV

Disclaimer: this blog post is written from a purely personal perspective. Just like all the other posts on the blog in fact, but as this is a relatively unusual foray into politics for this blog, for work reasons I want to emphasise these views are expressed in a solely personal capacity.

In the online world, and to an extent in the real one, I’m surrounded by mostly excellent, right-on, progressive, liberal-to-left people (I’m not commenting on how many of those adjectives apply to me). And on recent Twitter evidence, they are generally inclined to vote yes to the Alternative Vote… dare I say, almost as a reflex action in favour of reform? Probably not coincidentally, a recent poll  showing a strong lead for ‘no’ across the country has London, where I live, evenly split on the subject.

So maybe it feels hard to come out as against AV (though anyone who knows me will likely know my views). This post is for anyone else who feels similarly: don’t be afraid, it’s OK. It’s also partly inspired by MJ Hibbett‘s ‘yes’ video, which I’ll put at the end of the post for balance – it’s good fun, even though I don’t agree with the arguments. If Hibbett can do a song, I reasoned, maybe I can at least do a blog post. For the avoidance of doubt, this is not going to spell out acronyms or explain the systems: it assumes you know the basics.

Before we dive into detail, here is my thinking in a nutshell.

AV won’t make much difference either way. It certainly won’t solve any problems, least of all the ones that its advocates say it will. There is no compelling case for change. Whether you prefer AV or FPTP is a marginal call and, as much as anything, a matter of taste.

There’s more to democracy than the electoral system
Most of what I’ve read and heard about AV and FPTP over the last few months has been essentially incorrect. Both main campaign groups have, in my view, argued their case with a dispiriting disregard for accuracy. The biggest single myth – or lie, if you prefer – about AV is that it will make any significant difference to how we are governed.

Calculating the outcomes of past general elections under AV will inevitably be an uncertain science, but the best estimates  suggest that few, quite possibly none at all, of the post-war elections would have resulted in a different government (though some majorities would have been different, one or two more parliaments might have been hung, the February 1974 one might not have been). Some others might have prompted rather different politics due to the subtly different parliamentary arithmetic, but it’s impossible to say that there would have been truly significant consequences.

There are far more important factors in deciding who governs us than whether we have AV or FPTP (a switch to a proportional system would, of course, be a substantial change, and this blog post would read very differently if that was the choice before us). The redrawing of the constituency boundaries and reduction in seat numbers will have a massive impact on the next election, much greater than a switch to AV, by removing a long-standing bias in favour of Labour (and I’ve no sympathy for Labour claims of gerrymandering, as an aside: Labour had 13 years to do something statesmanlike and correct the bias, but instead they lay back and enjoyed its benefits, which was nothing short of gerrymandering by omission). That will be true whether the eventual election is under FPTP or AV, although in fact the legislation only allows for AV to be used with the new boundaries .

Other political factors are also more influential. Last year’s general election is a perfect example: under AV, it probably would have produced a hung parliament in which a Lib-Lab coalition was fully arithmetically viable, as well as the Lib-Con one. But the political factors that led to the current coalition – the Conservatives’ higher placing in the popular vote, the antipathy between Brown and Clegg and Labour’s cack-handed negotiations, deliberate or otherwise – would have led us to the same government.

More significant still is the choice on offer from our politicians: the strength of the rhetoric often disguises just how close the consensus on many issues, not least the all-important macroeconomic ones, has been in recent years (until c.2008, at least) between the three main parties. Whether or not Ed Miliband’s policy review leads Labour to break away from the Thatcherite consensus that has dominated British politics since the dawn of New Labour will be far more significant to the next election than the system the contest is fought under.

Politics and government are, therefore, the result of much more than an electoral system. Reform of the electoral system should never be mistaken for significant political reform.

Myths about AV: the ‘no’ camp
So much, then, for the big picture. What about the claims for and against AV? Starting with the no camp, some of their arguments have been downright peculiar. The claim that AV will be more expensive because it require electronic voting machines appears to be pure fiction – just as well for them (and their opponents) that nobody thought to empower the electoral commission to police the truth of claims made!

Equally strange is the claim that AV will help the BNP. In fact it will reduce the chances of smaller parties like the BNP, Greens or UKIP taking a seat – under FPTP they might be able to sneak in with 35% now and again, but it will be harder for them to get 50% or close to it. As a curious aside, although the BNP leadership advocates a no vote, their voters are overwhelmingly inclined to vote yes according to polling.

Thirdly, the no campaign claim there will be more hung parliaments under AV. Technically this is true, but not by much: certainly claiming it will become routine is scaremongering. As with so much else in the debate, other political factors are far more significant to the likelihood of a hung parliament: if the Lib Dems don’t recover from their current slump, we would appear to be heading into a new era of two party dominance, which makes hung parliaments under either or AV or FPTP far less likely over the medium term.

Myths about AV: the ‘yes’ camp
Many of the myths peddled by the yes campaign are not so much calculated fiction as spectacular misreadings of the likely working of AV, were it to be introduced. First on this list, and perhaps the most interesting aspect of the whole issue, is the question of safe seats.

The yes campaign claim that AV will have the effect of “tackling ‘jobs for life’” by forcing “complacent MP” to “sit up and listen, and reach out to the communities they seek to represent.” Well, MPs with safe seats will usually have at least getting on for 50% of the vote already (64% of MPs have 44% of the vote locally or more) and are therefore overwhelmingly likely to nudge over 50% with ease under AV, and many of them (a third of all MPs) have a clear majority – surely these are just the MPs that advocates of AV should be most in favour of? Certainly these MPs don’t need to reach out any further to their communities – they already enjoy considerable support from it, and will not be under any risk from AV.

Now, there are certainly some seats where the MP might be fairly comfortable under FPTP, but not especially close to 50% – certainly in those seats the contests will be a bit closer. But I’d be willing to bet there are not that many of them (I wasn’t able to find any readily accessible analysis on this – happy to be pointed towards some). Moreover, there is a trade-off: under FPTP, even a large majority can be overhauled – no MP, even superficially safe ones, can count themselves safe and neglect their constituency. Michael Portillo is always cited of course, but there have been plenty of examples since then: one thinks of Lorely Burt overturning a 10,000 majority in Solihull in 2005, or Lembit Opik losing what should have been a safe seat after (I understand) a somewhat complacent reluctance to campaign locally. Challengers who eject apparently safe MPs usually do it by grabbing some of the sitting MP’s vote and reducing splits in the anti-incumbent vote, but the margins are often tight – in these seats, getting over the 50% mark will be too big an ask for many of these challengers.

Connected to this, I wonder if there will be an increase in the incumbency effect under AV. It’s a well-documented phenomenon of British general elections that MPs amass a personal vote: a sitting MP will attract more votes than a fresh candidate of the same party standing in the same seat would be able to. I suspect – and I’d be grateful to be pointed towards any literature on this point – that under AV many voters might not like a sitting MP’s party, but will be willing to give them a second or third (etc.) preference vote because they feel they have done well for the locality – perhaps a friend or relative approached them for help, or they opened their child’s primary school fete and so on – all the kinds of thing an incumbent can do to build their personal support, but that a challenger cannot.

Combine these factors and it may even be that fewer seats change hands under AV than would under FPTP on the same swing (again, pointers to authoritative literature for or against this suggestion are welcomed).

Similar considerations apply to the yes campaign’s claim that MPs will have to “work harder”. The seats in which a candidate has to work hardest to win is a tight marginal, where the winner might only get 30-odd per cent of the vote – yet this is also a scenario that the yes campaign claims is objectionable.

Looking further at the only ‘yes’ leaflet I’ve so far received, the headline attempts to suggest that what they suggest is a broader political malaise can be remedied by introducing AV. “Expenses scandal” says the top line. This has been looked into, however: there is no correlation between margins of victory or safeness of seat and the size of an MP’s expenses claim.

“MPs in the dock” continues the leaflet. If AV somehow prevents individuals from acting criminally, I must have misunderstood how it works. “Your voice not being heard” it concludes. See above re safe seats.

Finally, while I’m not sure the official yes campaign has claimed this, I’ve been struck by Nick Clegg claiming (I think repeatedly, though it might just have been reported multiple times with a bit of an interval) that AV is operating successfully in the London mayoral elections. It isn’t – those elections use the Supplementary Vote. Though from the other side of the debate, none other than Boris Johnson has made the same error.

Matters of taste
If there is a yes vote, let me emphasise I won’t be terribly upset (and not nearly as upset as the opinion pollsters, who are predicting a decisive no vote); nor will I be especially jubilant if the result is no. It really doesn’t matter very much. None of which is to say that there isn’t a difference between AV and FPTP. But it’s a marginal one, no more than swapping a Jack of Spades for a Jack of Clubs – certainly not the decisive gulf that both camps would have you believe exists between the systems.

Firstly, it is true that AV makes it harder for smaller parties and independents to get a seat in the Commons. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Well, it’s a matter of taste – there might be something to be said, depending on your politics, for shutting out Dr Richard Taylor, the BNP or the Greens, but for my money the presence of smaller voices enriches British politics (usually).

It’s also true to say AV is more complicated than FPTP, though in the grand scheme of things it’s really not that tricky to get to grips with. Good thing or bad thing? I’d say there’s nothing wrong with adding a bit of complexity if there’s a clear reason for doing so… there just isn’t one of them, as we’ve seen.

Perhaps most significant for me is the question of second, third, fourth etc. preferences having equal weight with first preferences – it makes me uneasy, instinctively. I’m also uneasy about the fact that you can’t tell when you cast your vote whose column it will end up in. What happens if you cast a first preference vote for the candidate who ends up third, but a second preference for the eventual winner… who nonetheless wins without requiring the redistributed votes of Mr Third Place? Has your vote been ‘wasted’ even though you’ve got a candidate you were happy with? AV brings every bit as much potential for peculiarities and anomalies as FPTP.

That’s quite enough of that
There is much else one could discuss – the desirability or otherwise of hung parliaments, for instance. But I think this post is long enough already. I’ll finish by asking whether changing one aspect of general elections can ever be especially sensible – as we’ve seen, it will inevitably have consequences for the nature of the government and House of Commons we end up with, and while the consequences of the shift to AV would be minor, a shift to a proportional system could be much more significant. If we do want to reform general elections, we should be looking in the round at the whole structure of the relationship between the executive, the legislature and how we translate votes cast into one or both of these. Tinkering solely with one element such as the electoral system is, I can’t help but think, the Frank Spencer approach to constitutional reform.

But finally, as promised, here’s MJ Hibbett arguing the case for change:

Christmas videos

As we’re now less than three weeks out from Christmas, I reckon it’s just about acceptable to put the decorations up, put the Christmas songs on the MP3 player (I’ve been stocking up on all sorts of Christmas indiepop this year) and maybe get the occasional turkey and stuffing sandwich from Greggs.

So to help with the mood, here are some festive videos: MJ Hibbett’s Christmas song of this year, The 29th Day of December (featuring yours truly as part of the “choir”, not that you’ll be able to tell), and its predecessor of a few years ago, The Advent Calendar of fact; plus the hilarious Jeremy Lion performing the Twelve Days of Christmas.

As for this blog, between now and the end of the year you can expect (hopefully) a couple of podcasts – one Vs Satan, one Vs Santa – some album of the year reviews and a TV round-up of the last twelve months as well. Until then, enjoy!

You can see some other (non-festive) videos I recommend on the Vodpod sidebar panel to the left.