2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 9,900 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

North Bristol Advice Centre – South West Legal Walk Fundraising Event

Good Morning Everyone.

I will be taking part in the Bristol walk for justice charity fundraising walk on the 23rd September with our team from North Bristol Advice Centre. The walk is intended to raise funding to help with the continued provision of crucial free and pro bono legal advice services to those who need them most in the Bristol and South West area. This is particularly crucial just now as the provision of free advice is under considerable attack through Government reforms to legal funding while the ongoing welfare reform program is increasing demand all of which is having and will continue to have a negative impact on the most vulnerable members of our communities.

We would appreciate any support you can give us by visiting our fundraising page through the link below and pledging a donation to help us both raise the profile of North Bristol Advice Centre to our clients and to continue to provide our important advice and community services To North Bristol and South Gloucestershire communities.

http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-web/fundraiser/showFundraiserProfilePage.action?userUrl=NorthBristolAdviceCentre

Please also visit the North Bristol Advice Centre website to find out more about our crucial services within our community. http://www.northbristoladvice.org.uk

Thank you for your support. :)

Mike Farrell-Deveau

Police – Scandals, Killings, Cover ups – Police corruption, brutality and failure in the UK

In light of recent revelations regarding allegations that the police conducted undercover operations to discredit the family, witnesses and campaigns for justice following the murder of Stephen Lawrence, for whatever unjustifiable, disreputable and downright disgusting reasons behind such attempts, it is worth remembering other instances of unlawful police corruption, brutality, public intimidation, provocation and procedural failure which have led to the death and imprisonment of many innocent people, particularly now when there are constant calls and moves to give the police more powers, powers which like many of the security services they should neither have nor deserve. The following is a list of interesting such cases, in no particular order. If you wish to read more on each one click the link. In some cases there is reams of information out there.

Death of Blair peach

The Battle of the Beanfield

The Cardiff five

The Birmingham Six

The notorious criminal exploits of the West Midlands Serious Crime Squad

The Guildford Four and Maguire Seven

The killing of Jean Charles De Menezes

Public Disorder – Plain Clothes police thugs smash up a victims car with baseball bats… and get away with it

Battle of Orgreave

Death of Ian Tomlinson

Hillsborough Disaster – Police smearing of victims.

These are just a handful of known and well reported stories, there are sadly many more out there. If you have experienced or have other examples to add to it, let me know and I will add them. Many of the victims in the cases above received neither apology nor compensation despite having died or having had convictions quashed, often after spending years of their lives incarcerated. In some cases there are claims that the police have actively sought to pervert the course of justice for example by smearing the reputations of victims, losing or withholding evidence crucial to an enquiry, or closing ranks to cover the identity of killers within their ranks.

In virtually every case the failings documented should quite simply never have occurred.

GCHQ – We are all suspects now

Over the last few weeks there have been many reports since the Edward Snowden disclosures detailing the domestic spying activities of the NSA in the United States and how Britain’s GCHQ have in collusion with the USA gained access to the private information of millions of people (Private emails, phone records, social networking sites etc) by the back door without public or political consent.

In the UK there has been much debate over many months regarding Theresa May’s proposed ‘Snoopers Charter’ which we had thought had already been shot down in flames once, but has since reared its ugly head when she decided to use the murder of Lee Rigby to reignite her proposals. I wonder however, why bother with the charter when it seems the machinery and practice that the charter envisions is seemingly already in place and working. It certainly seems that way given the reports of how GCHQ is already trawling and storing private information seemingly without oversight. There has been no public consultation, no manifesto pledge, no policy made public nothing. This organisation is out there operating in secret without mandate, interpreting the law as it sees fit to suit its own purpose of undermining privacy and security. It seems we are all suspects now without recourse.

The following article was written by Ewen MacAskill, Julian Borger, Nick Hopkins, Nick Davies and James Ball and was originally published online by the Guardian on Friday 21st June 2013 at 17.23 BST. I present it here unedited. The original report is available here. It makes for highly interesting reading, particularly the rather flipant throwaway line at the very end of the post which gives you an idea of the kind of mentality behind these activities.

 

GCHQ taps fibre-optic cables for secret access to World’s communications

Exclusive: British spy agency collects and stores vast quantities of global email messages, Facebook posts, internet histories and calls, and shares them with NSA, latest documents from Edward Snowden reveal

         Britain’s spy agency GCHQ has secretly gained access to the network of cables which carry the world’s phone calls and internet traffic and has started to process vast streams of sensitive personal information which it is sharing with its American partner, the National Security Agency (NSA).

The sheer scale of the agency’s ambition is reflected in the titles of its two principal components: Mastering the Internet and Global Telecoms Exploitation, aimed at scooping up as much online and telephone traffic as possible. This is all being carried out without any form of public acknowledgement or debate.

One key innovation has been GCHQ’s ability to tap into and store huge volumes of data drawn from fibre-optic cables for up to 30 days so that it can be sifted and analysed. That operation, codenamed Tempora, has been running for some 18 months.

GCHQ and the NSA are consequently able to access and process vast quantities of communications between entirely innocent people, as well as targeted suspects.

This includes recordings of phone calls, the content of email messages, entries on Facebook and the history of any internet user’s access to websites – all of which is deemed legal, even though the warrant system was supposed to limit interception to a specified range of targets.

The existence of the programme has been disclosed in documents shown to the Guardian by the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden as part of his attempt to expose what he has called “the largest programme of suspicionless surveillance in human history”.

“It’s not just a US problem. The UK has a huge dog in this fight,” Snowden told the Guardian. “They [GCHQ] are worse than the US.”

However, on Friday a source with knowledge of intelligence argued that the data was collected legally under a system of safeguards, and had provided material that had led to significant breakthroughs in detecting and preventing serious crime.

Britain’s technical capacity to tap into the cables that carry the world’s communications – referred to in the documents as special source exploitation – has made GCHQ an intelligence superpower.

By 2010, two years after the project was first trialled, it was able to boast it had the “biggest internet access” of any member of the Five Eyes electronic eavesdropping alliance, comprising the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

UK officials could also claim GCHQ “produces larger amounts of metadata than NSA”. (Metadata describes basic information on who has been contacting whom, without detailing the content.)

By May last year 300 analysts from GCHQ, and 250 from the NSA, had been assigned to sift through the flood of data.

The Americans were given guidelines for its use, but were told in legal briefings by GCHQ lawyers: “We have a light oversight regime compared with the US”.

When it came to judging the necessity and proportionality of what they were allowed to look for, would-be American users were told it was “your call”.

The Guardian understands that a total of 850,000 NSA employees and US private contractors with top secret clearance had access to GCHQ databases.

The documents reveal that by last year GCHQ was handling 600m “telephone events” each day, had tapped more than 200 fibre-optic cables and was able to process data from at least 46 of them at a time.

Each of the cables carries data at a rate of 10 gigabits per second, so the tapped cables had the capacity, in theory, to deliver more than 21 petabytes a day – equivalent to sending all the information in all the books in the British Library 192 times every 24 hours.

And the scale of the programme is constantly increasing as more cables are tapped and GCHQ data storage facilities in the UK and abroad are expanded with the aim of processing terabits (thousands of gigabits) of data at a time.

For the 2 billion users of the world wide web, Tempora represents a window on to their everyday lives, sucking up every form of communication from the fibre-optic cables that ring the world.

The NSA has meanwhile opened a second window, in the form of the Prism operation, revealed earlier this month by the Guardian, from which it secured access to the internal systems of global companies that service the internet.

The GCHQ mass tapping operation has been built up over five years by attaching intercept probes to transatlantic fibre-optic cables where they land on British shores carrying data to western Europe from telephone exchanges and internet servers in north America.

This was done under secret agreements with commercial companies, described in one document as “intercept partners”.

The papers seen by the Guardian suggest some companies have been paid for the cost of their co-operation and GCHQ went to great lengths to keep their names secret. They were assigned “sensitive relationship teams” and staff were urged in one internal guidance paper to disguise the origin of “special source” material in their reports for fear that the role of the companies as intercept partners would cause “high-level political fallout”.

The source with knowledge of intelligence said on Friday the companies were obliged to co-operate in this operation. They are forbidden from revealing the existence of warrants compelling them to allow GCHQ access to the cables.

“There’s an overarching condition of the licensing of the companies that they have to co-operate in this. Should they decline, we can compel them to do so. They have no choice.”

The source said that although GCHQ was collecting a “vast haystack of data” what they were looking for was “needles”.

“Essentially, we have a process that allows us to select a small number of needles in a haystack. We are not looking at every piece of straw. There are certain triggers that allow you to discard or not examine a lot of data so you are just looking at needles. If you had the impression we are reading millions of emails, we are not. There is no intention in this whole programme to use it for looking at UK domestic traffic – British people talking to each other,” the source said.

He explained that when such “needles” were found a log was made and the interception commissioner could see that log.

“The criteria are security, terror, organised crime. And economic well-being. There’s an auditing process to go back through the logs and see if it was justified or not. The vast majority of the data is discarded without being looked at … we simply don’t have the resources.”

However, the legitimacy of the operation is in doubt. According to GCHQ’s legal advice, it was given the go-ahead by applying old law to new technology. The 2000 Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa) requires the tapping of defined targets to be authorised by a warrant signed by the home secretary or foreign secretary.

However, an obscure clause allows the foreign secretary to sign a certificate for the interception of broad categories of material, as long as one end of the monitored communications is abroad. But the nature of modern fibre-optic communications means that a proportion of internal UK traffic is relayed abroad and then returns through the cables.

Parliament passed the Ripa law to allow GCHQ to trawl for information, but it did so 13 years ago with no inkling of the scale on which GCHQ would attempt to exploit the certificates, enabling it to gather and process data regardless of whether it belongs to identified targets.

The categories of material have included fraud, drug trafficking and terrorism, but the criteria at any one time are secret and are not subject to any public debate. GCHQ’s compliance with the certificates is audited by the agency itself, but the results of those audits are also secret.

An indication of how broad the dragnet can be was laid bare in advice from GCHQ’s lawyers, who said it would be impossible to list the total number of people targeted because “this would be an infinite list which we couldn’t manage”.

There is an investigatory powers tribunal to look into complaints that the data gathered by GCHQ has been improperly used, but the agency reassured NSA analysts in the early days of the programme, in 2009: “So far they have always found in our favour”.

Historically, the spy agencies have intercepted international communications by focusing on microwave towers and satellites. The NSA’s intercept station at Menwith Hill in North Yorkshire played a leading role in this. One internal document quotes the head of the NSA, Lieutenant General Keith Alexander, on a visit to Menwith Hill in June 2008, asking: “Why can’t we collect all the signals all the time? Sounds like a good summer project for Menwith.”

By then, however, satellite interception accounted for only a small part of the network traffic. Most of it now travels on fibre-optic cables, and the UK’s position on the western edge of Europe gave it natural access to cables emerging from the Atlantic.

The data collected provides a powerful tool in the hands of the security agencies, enabling them to sift for evidence of serious crime. According to the source, it has allowed them to discover new techniques used by terrorists to avoid security checks and to identify terrorists planning atrocities. It has also been used against child exploitation networks and in the field of cyberdefence.

It was claimed on Friday that it directly led to the arrest and imprisonment of a cell in the Midlands who were planning co-ordinated attacks; to the arrest of five Luton-based individuals preparing acts of terror, and to the arrest of three London-based people planning attacks prior to the Olympics.

As the probes began to generate data, GCHQ set up a three-year trial at the GCHQ station in Bude, Cornwall. By the summer of 2011, GCHQ had probes attached to more than 200 internet links, each carrying data at 10 gigabits a second. “This is a massive amount of data!” as one internal slideshow put it. That summer, it brought NSA analysts into the Bude trials. In the autumn of 2011, it launched Tempora as a mainstream programme, shared with the Americans.

The intercept probes on the transatlantic cables gave GCHQ access to its special source exploitation. Tempora allowed the agency to set up internet buffers so it could not simply watch the data live but also store it – for three days in the case of content and 30 days for metadata.

“Internet buffers represent an exciting opportunity to get direct access to enormous amounts of GCHQ’s special source data,” one document explained.

The processing centres apply a series of sophisticated computer programmes in order to filter the material through what is known as MVR – massive volume reduction. The first filter immediately rejects high-volume, low-value traffic, such as peer-to-peer downloads, which reduces the volume by about 30%. Others pull out packets of information relating to “selectors” – search terms including subjects, phone numbers and email addresses of interest. Some 40,000 of these were chosen byGCHQ and 31,000 by the NSA. Most of the information extracted is “content”, such as recordings of phone calls or the substance of email messages. The rest is metadata.

The GCHQ documents that the Guardian has seen illustrate a constant effort to build up storage capacity at the stations at Cheltenham, Bude and at one overseas location, as well a search for ways to maintain the agency’s comparative advantage as the world’s leading communications companies increasingly route their cables through Asia to cut costs. Meanwhile, technical work is ongoing to expand GCHQ’s capacity to ingest data from new super cables carrying data at 100 gigabits a second. As one training slide told new users: “You are in an enviable position – have fun and make the most of it.”

 

Makes you wonder, just who watches the watchmen?

Bedroom Tax – Bristol

Good news in the fight against Iain Duncan Smith’s PERVERSE bedroom tax, it is being reported that Bristol City Council in an agreement between all of the major parties and the city’s Mayor George Ferguson have apparently voted not to evict those adversely affected by this draconian cut in housing benefit. The mayor has apparently also agreed to look at reviewing the definition of a bedroom to reclassify such things as box rooms, downstairs rooms and downstairs bedrooms hopefully with a view of taking them out with the critical definition which triggers Duncan Smith’s social attack. If true this is an important step forward. It is still important however that those affected get out and make themselves heard.

More news on this story here.

Please note this post is not an endorsement of the policies or activities of the Socialist Party who (along with all other parties) I do not support.

Bedroom Tax – Bristol Protest June 2013

Today's protest, College Green, Bristol

Today’s protest, College Green, Bristol

Just returned from the protest today at College Green, well actually off of college green, hidden under the trees outside the Bristol Royal Marriott where local people had gathered in protest against the heinous ‘Bedroom Tax’ which recently came into existence.

As many know this is the tax which is actually not a tax at all but a cut in housing benefit which affects only those with local or housing authority landlords with cuts of 14% per single spare room and 25% for two or more spare rooms. A tax by any other name, and one on poverty to boot.

Plenty of column inches have been given to this ‘tax’ which when pared to the bone and stripped of all evasive government rhetoric is at its core a highly illogical, divisive, unacceptable pure and simple attack on social housing tenants by a government that claimed to be ‘Caring and compassionate’ pre election (any party that has to realign itself in the public eye with such slogans is, never was and never will be either). There are also many questions that it simply fails to even consider, for example how many people are affected where they are deemed to have a spare room yet through no fault of their own have may had no choice in the property offered when they were allocated a home by the local authority or housing association?

No my main issue today is the sheer lack of turnout or support that this protest attracted. Now the weather was nice in Bristol today, glorious in fact, and continues to be while I write this. There were also many other organised events on including the Feed the 5000 festival taking up the bulk of college green yards from the protest, something involving the NHS, and a threatened EDL rally somewhere in town which hopefully never got off of the ground, but which may understandably have made people wary of visiting the city centre today as well as spurring an anti EDL protest at the cenotaph.

Nonetheless the fact is that there are according to the Bristol post more than 4700 households in Bristol that will be adversely affected by this government sanctioned theft and eviction tax. 4700 households of people would more than fill College green admirably and make a good show of the protest in front of the Mayor’s mansion. However…. today’s protest attracted maybe a hundred at best, give or take, all huddled together in a few square metres hidden under and almost within the branches of the trees outside the Marriott as pictured above. I can also bet that not everyone there was actually affected, which is no bad thing because protests like this need to garner support from wider society. But, only about 100 people out of 4700 households?

100 PEOPLE OUT OF OVER 4700 HOUSEHOLDS?!? That was all who were able to attend?

Where is everyone?

On Wednesday night we attended the Bristol Rally for the Peoples Assembly against Austerity at Malcolm X Centre in St Pauls. Now there there were several hundred attendees giving a packed house to hear talks by speakers including the permanently texting and uninterested looking Owen Jones, the comedian Mark Steel (who was really good), Vicki Baars, Paulette North and Joanne Kaye on various issues from the downward spiralling plight of disabled people under the current government, to the impact of bankers bonuses, the continuing privatisation of the NHS, and the need for people to have hope in desperate times.

Some aspects of the night I didn’t agree with, particularly use of the term ‘Comrades’ during one of the talks which always brings to mind negative images of hammers, sickles, oppression and Stalin for me (and the ‘Comrade Stalin Salutes You’ skit in Little Britain). I am also wary of such events for their tendency to be hijacked by political groups desperate to ensnare unwary punters, such as the Socialist Workers Party who always exploit such events. I am not socialist, communist, capitalist or any other ‘ist’, I simply believe in doing the right thing and supporting those in need against political vote driven actions which are clearly wrong, such as bedroom tax. I am also not a fan of ‘Applause lines’ which are those slogans, sound bytes or other forced sentences that public speakers inject to get a round of applause from the audience, I would rather they just got to the point and were clapped at the end, not every few seconds.

Anyway, in amongst much of the political rhetoric of the night there were many positive and impressive things at the Malcolm X centre, particularly the packed turnout. I would like to think that people there didn’t turn out just to see the celebrity campaigners on display. Yet after an impassioned plea from the speakers on Wednesday night that all attend the protest against the bedroom tax on College Green, today’s protest ended up with a total damp squib turnout of probably less than a quarter of Wednesday’s audience, becoming something that could easily be dismissed by those who should be influenced and compelled by it.

Where was everyone who made it to the Malcolm X Centre? Where are those of the 4700 affected Households?

The truth is that unless protests like this receive the support they deserve, then those 4700 households will simply become a footnote on the road to continually worsening poverty UK wide. Homelessness is on the rise. Foodbanks are on the rise. Extreme poverty is on the rise. Society is riven by government and media driven rhetoric about masses of non existent ‘scroungers’ which is fuelling a rise in hate crime against disabled people and others. In addition the political process itself IS broken; Parliament is stuffed with career politicians on all sides, many of whom have no concept of life beyond private schools, Oxford, Cambridge or the square mile. Corruption continues to be in weekly evidence as seen in recent days with the return of traditional Tory Sleaze and another ‘cash for questions’ scandal, this time with revelations regarding Patrick Mercer. It also no longer seems to matter who you vote for, you always end up in the same situation rendering the electoral process not just a stick with shit at one end, not just a stick with shit at both ends, but a stick that has been rattled around in the stank pail so much over the decades that it now permanently exists with shit all over it. People are unhappy, you need only look at ever decreasing turnout to realise that many simply see no point in voting, they have no trust in politicians, and they have no faith or hope that things can ever change for the better. Bristol for example now has a Mayor and a Police and Crime Commissioner for whom only about 10% of the relevant electorate voted, which is quite honestly scandalous. Major decisions are being taken and significant positions of power filled by individuals who have no popular mandate. In many ways however, those who are disillusioned have every reason to be so, and I completely identify with them.

In my mind therefore, the only way to combat such a situation is for people to get out onto the streets and to stand against it, to support positive causes such as today’s, look past the placards with Socialist Workers Party splattered unnecessarily over them, look past the so called democratic process which no longer delivers, see the issue of an unfair bedroom tax on the poor for what it is, and decide for yourself what you believe is right. Sign petitions, vote with your feet, kick up a stink and make those in power take notice!

At the end of the day there is plenty of evidence out there that the bedroom tax will save the government nothing and will actually cost more, including reports from within parliament itself. Local authorities have already said (and been ignored by central government and Iain Duncan Smith) that they don’t have the properties available to downsize many of those affected. Some local authorities have called for the bedroom tax to be scrapped recognising that it is going to cause sever damage, including Fife Council. Many housing authority housing tenants could however be left with the unsavoury choice of possible homelessness or moving into the private rental sector where the cost to the public purse through housing benefit will only skyrocket. It is also not as simple as IDS suggests of going out and working; many affected DO work, and for many others there are quite simply not the jobs out there for them to do so because Iain Duncan Smith and his government have quite simply failed to pull the requisite jobs from their collective backsides which they claim are out there (while they scandalously continue to hire unpaid interns) and comprehensively failed to deal with their pals in the banks who refuse to stimulate employment by not releasing liquidity to small companies (though many of the cash strapped banks somehow have the money to keep ALL of the lights burning through the dead of night in their properties down on Canary Wharf.)

The bedroom tax policy is therefore rendered little more than a stunt and ideologically driven attack against what the government sees as an easy target; a minority of society who are seen, largely thanks to media and government rhetoric, as an ocean of scroungers simply not worth caring about. That is of course utterly wrong. The bedroom tax brings no benefits to anyone; none to the so called lower, middle or upper classes and therefore has no justifiable reason for its existence. What it does bring however is hardship and human cost aimed at those least able to combat it. What this also means however, is that many in society whether affected by it or not have no reason not to get out and protest against it on such terms. If anything the often touted and put upon ‘Taxpayer’ has every reason to protest against it because it will simply cost them more tax in the long run.

So the next time there is something that desperately needs support and is a wholly worthwhile cause such as today’s protest, please get out and show your support. There are many who don’t support this tax, many many more than attended today, but you all need to stand up and be counted, get out and make a difference.

Anyway, in a lighter mood (but only slightly), here’s a funny photo that someone out there on the Internets mocked up a few months back, and in terms of the sentiment, I agree with it wholeheartedly.

Iain Duncan Smith - the Shitebag

IDS is a man who shows absolutely not a drip of compassion for anyone anywhere as his disgusting, divisive and ideologically motivated policies whether directed at social housing or the disabled literally destroy lives and society while he enjoys the rent free multi millionaire existence that has only come to be expected from members of parliament, whichever side of the political divide they sit on.

Amazingly this man once visited Easterhouse in Glasgow and claimed to have been moved to tears at the levels of poverty he witnessed there. Its truly fascinating what people like him will say to win power, particularly where his policies since gaining power seem to be those of a man that rather than help those in extreme poverty would rather just wipe them off the map by any means necessary. Perhaps he is still sore that we never elected him as Prime Minister (Thank god we didn’t!)

Even more amazing is the fact that he claimed recently that he could live on £53.00 per week if he had to, yet just this week it is being reported in various outlets that he can’t even eat breakfast for less than £39.00, and when he does he tries to claim it back on expenses! Who the hell spends £39.00 on breakfast in the first place, and then tries to claim it back from the public purse? Iain Duncan Smith, that’s who. Its not good enough for the tax payer to be charged to help keep those less fortunate off of the breadline, but its A-Ok to pay for Duncan Smith’s breakfast. Toss me a pot.

Anyway, until next time, Adios!

Rush live at the O2 arena, London, May 2013 – review

After a year of waiting having purchased our tickets back in April 2012 we finally arrived in London last night to see Rush perform on their Clockwork Angels tour at the O2 Arena in London.

Rush are one of our favourite bands, we’ve seen them three times before on their R30, Snakes and Arrows and Time machine tours in various venues including the SECC in Glasgow and the Metro Radio Arena in Newcastle. We have been marginally disappointed on occasions in the past due to poor sound systems at some of these venues although on each occasion the band have quite obviously been playing their collective asses off. I had therefore hoped that last nights gig would be the best yet sound wise given the way the O2 big their arena up on their own website, which to quote says:

The arena at The O2 truly creates a new benchmark in what both fan and performer can and should expect from a rock or pop concert in the UK. You will only see the world’s hottest and most sought after acts on this stage; Bon Jovi, Justin Timberlake, Scissor Sisters, Prince, The Rolling Stones, Elton John, Take That… and what a way to enjoy them. With perfect sight-lines from every angle, crystal clear acoustics, obscenely comfy seating, wide concourses between aisles and a huge variety of snack and drink options to enjoy throughout the show. We’ve even put paid to that excruciatingly painful and frustrating tradition of the “fifty minute queue for the loo” by fitting 548 toilets.

This pretty much seems to say that the sound and venue would be good, at least better than Scotland’s SECC which is really just a giant metal shed and not the best venue for live music. However…. Last nights gig was by far the second worst live music experience we have paid for (The absolute worst was a gig by Alice in Chains a few years ago at a total dump in Govan, Glasgow, also funnily enough called the O2 where the sound engineer drove everything way up beyond distortion to the point where standing in front of a jet engine would have been more enjoyable).

From the moment we arrived I knew something was wrong. The doors which were supposed to open at 6 according to the ticket didn’t open until about half seven, so the concert started late, though not admittedly as late as anything involving Axl Rose. There were rumours of some kind of incident delaying the gig which were confirmed by one of the arena doorman when we left at the mid show break, and I have seen mention since of a Fox loose in the venue on other sites.

The interior of the O2 is certainly imposing, a massive cavernous space with 4 tiers of seats going up to the rafters probably several hundred feet in the air all round, a mighty distance to fall should you slip or trip on your way down the stairs to your hard plastic seat. The stage however was tiny for a venue of its size, the O2 has a capacity of 20,000 apparently. The PA and stage however looked no bigger than the system we have seen at venues half the size, all strung up in the lighting rig on thin looking wires. I don’t know whether the PA belonged to the house or whether it was brought by the band. The background pre show music being piped through the system, the usual mix of Genesis, Kansas, King Crimson and other stuff familiar to Rush concert goers was also barely audible through this system from where we were sitting, a portent of things to come.

As we sat waiting for the venue to fill up excited at the prospect of a good show for which for once we actually had a good view, eventually the house lights went down and the usual Rush pre gig comedy skit fired up on the screen. Problem was again we could hardly hear any of it, just an echoey mush. Then it ended and the opening keyboard chords of Subdivisions started pumping out, the band kicked off, the lights went up and… splat! The show rapidly went downhill from there.

Instead of the usual Rush powerful clear sound (and the promised ‘Crystal Clear Acoustics ) what we got was a muddy indecipherable roaring noise of harsh sounding guitar, keyboard, earth shattering subsonic bass, some drums (not the whole kit, mostly only a trebly snare and cymbals) and howling vocals all buried together in a wall of noise more reminiscent of a nearby hurricane than a premier rock band. Not one word Geddy Lee sang could be heard clearly, Neil Peart‘s usual needle sharp drum fills were lost completely in a wash of reverberation, and the bass was just a continuous rumble, any and all notes lost to the wind. As for Alex Lifeson‘s guitar, it was lost somewhere in the ether, only really cutting through on his solos, but painfully so as the noise screeched through at such an intense high pitched shrill volume that the only thing it really cut through were probably the ear drums of every dog in the East end of London, as well as our own. Painful.

As the first half progressed we sat desperately hoping the sound would clean up, that maybe someone somewhere would inform the sound engineer that the band sounded like a bag of drowning cats pumped through 100,000 watts of PA, these were some great songs that were being played somewhere out front after all. However it did not for the entirety of the first set. Song after song of inaudible vocals, gut rumbling bass and Peart’s whipcrack echoing snare drum, the only audible part of his kit washed over us. I found myself getting more and more annoyed, not to mention deafer as the distorted and unwelcome high frequencies pouring forth from the dangling PA took their toll.

Later as the first drum solo of the night kicked off the problems remained the same. The kit was awash with reverb and distortion from a clearly over driven PA, the sound bouncing off of the back of the venue creating a chronic slapback. The crowd obviously wearing beer muffs cheered on nonetheless, and as the band came back in after the drum solo I found that I could no longer make out what song they were playing. They later kicked into the Analogue kid, one of my favourite Rush songs, and it was ruined by the fact that what is a simple guitar, bass and drums rock tune with nice flashy fast riffs was rendered a reverb soaked murky mess in which you couldn’t separate guitar, bass, drums or vocals from the treacle mix. Lastly they played Far cry, and the only clear sound of the night emerged from the murk, the usual massive pyrotechnic spiralling firework bang at the end of the second ‘Circuits Blowing’ line (the first time they did that song at the SECC years ago I just about s**t myself at that point!).

After that the house lights went up and we headed outside wondering whether to bother with the second half. I had been looking forward to the performance of Clockwork Angels with the string ensemble, but once outside, woolly eared and very pis**d off, I didn’t want to go and sit through another hour and a half of ear splitting noise. So we decided to call it a night and head off to get something to eat down in ‘Entertainment Avenue’ more on which later…

All in all it was a completely disappointing night and represents probably the last ‘arena’ gig we will ever fork out for.

As for the O2 itself what can I say? This is our first and probably last visit to this soulless end of the line overblown marquee. I remember the controversy this place whipped up when first built as the ‘millennium dome’ as our government of the day saw fit to dump truck loads of public money into what appears to be little more than a giant grubby tent squatting over a concrete carpark. Today it houses the worst sounding music venue we have ever been to, and that is saying something coming from someone who has previously been to numerous gigs at Scotland’s very own gig spoiling barn the SECC on the muddy (sound wise) banks of the Clyde.

Not only does it house the worst sounding music venue, it is also stuffed full of the typical usual suspect high street fast food eateries along the outskirts of the O2 arena itself which the owners have jokingly called ‘entertainment avenue’. The only difference between the branches of these chain eateries in the O2 is that they charge way over the odds in the O2 than they do on most high streets. The same can be said in the arena itself, nearly £3 for a normal bottle of oasis fruit juice? RIPOFF!
Some adjectives to describe ‘entertainment avenue and the arena’ could include ‘Cold’, ‘Soulless’, ‘Concrete’, ‘Expensive’, ‘Windy’, etc.

As for being ‘Entertaining’, well that adjective is really more apt for the outside North Greenwich tube station where we actually managed to hear some Rush music with a bit of clarity, a happy busker standing at the top of the escalator, at the exit doors from the station to the O2 playing an instrumental of ‘Closer to the Heart’ to a backing tape which with his single guitar and two small tinny speakers on the floor at his feet sounded a thousand times better than the real thing in Thunderdome outside with several thousand watts of PA at their disposal, a lot of our money and a sound engineer who I suspect was either unconscious drooling over the mixing desk or just somewhere else entirely while the sound of Mad Max and Masterblaster battling it out continued on stage.

So, where does the fault lie with the sound issues on this gig? To be honest I am not entirely sure. Did the band bring their own PA and engineer, or was the PA part of the O2? I would really like to know. If it belonged to the O2 then the fault lies with them and possibly the sound engineer. If however it was the Bands sound system then to be honest they should really be ashamed of the sound quality they are offering to those fans who have paid out a lot of money to come and see their favourite band live, and at the very least the sound engineer should really be for the high jump for presenting the band in such an awful light. Other than that I have to say that despite the awful sound it was quite obvious that the band were actually playing really well, they continue to be at the top of their game as musicians unlike pretty much all of their peers from the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s etc. Its just a pity we couldn’t hear it.

Either way, having had the ‘Evening with Rush’ spoiled I would really love some of our money back, and then I might instead invest in the inevitable live DVD when it comes out and enjoy the concert properly on a decent sound system and wide screen at home.

So if you are considering shelling out for future gigs at the O2 arena, think long, think hard and maybe consider saving your money and not going as its bloody awful, and really disappointing if you travel a long distance to see something you have been looking forward to for over a year only to have it spoiled by inexcusably bad sound, and ridiculously expensive drinks. I have it on good authority that certain other gigs have been marred by similar problems. If however you are happy to slap the booze down your throat, strap on several thousand watts of chronically band sound and try your hardest to pretend it was actually a good night as you race toward alcohol soft middle age, then please, don’t let me stop you.

Now we are off to see the Happy Mondays in Bristol at the Harbour, with any luck they will hopefully sound much better than last nights ‘ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated’ long distance runaround.

Addendum

The Happy Mondays in Bristol were great. With a tiny stage and several thousand less watts of power than Rush had to play with, and only a few minutes of soundcheck on a stage shared with various acts (including 808 State) prior to their headline performance, they and whomever the sound engineer was managed to fill an open air concrete space on Bristols harbour-side amphitheatre with a really impressive sound, and performed brilliantly. The live sound was well mixed, loud, powerful and clear. Hundreds of pounds wasted on Rush vs a relatively cheap but highly enjoyable gig. Corporate arena rock sucks.