Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Power corrupts us as we tour the Houses of Parliament, jazz revives us as we stay late at Ronnie Scotts jam session…..

Who wouldn't be impressed and overawed by the gothic splendour of the British Houses of Parliament?

Elena and her best friend, Tamara, visiting us from Arkhangelsk in Russia, and myself have joined one of the tours organised by the Palace of Westminster for those interested in the history, architecture and political origins of the Mother of Parliaments.

We are greeted by the enormous emptiness of Westminster Hall, so vast it seems almost to be open to the elements, but as your neck strains upwards and around the ancient timber roofing and surrounding stone walls introduce themselves and ask you to bow in reverence to their antiquity - they have stood since the eleventh century on this spot. Kings and Queens have been made and unmade here.

Shuffling slowly inwards, we are made humble by soaring perpendicular vaulting which rises up from slightly parted holy hands, the fingers of which touch gently together in prayer as sublimely as in any cathedral in Christendom.

But all is adorned by gold leaf and the Kings and Queens of the past are raised up as idols, so we' re reminded that it is in the service of mammon that these stones were set up over us.

And Kings and Queens and the greatest nobles are but human, which means that biology rules even they: The glorious Royal Robing Chamber has a secret closet in which The Queen, when she visits to open Parliament, is able to evacuate that which unites her with us, and St Stephen's Chapel, when it was used as the chamber of The House of Commons, had a screen behind which Pitt the Younger dashed in order to throw up after an excess of port wine the night before. Having 'yielded up his malady' he returned to the debate, perhaps with less eloquence than usual.

The story of British democracy shows it to have been a slow, corrupt and painful process. This beautiful building is propaganda in stone and art. Charles II was a greater traitor than any commoner - only a King could have done the deal he did with Louis IV of France whereby in return for a subsidy he promised to hand England over to France and abolish the House of Commons!

Ah well, he was only human, and he was a bloke, and he was broke. Like a lot of us, he just couldn't handle money but he loved wine, women and song, and they don't come cheap. Kim Philby was a commoner but he was another great traitor, and he wanted to give us to the great Dictator of the Proletariat Mr J Stalin. Busy in this work, he too showed an excess of zeal towards women and wine, befuddlement from which probably led to his blundering off to Moscow for the rest of his days just before the British establishment were about to offer him a pardon and a pension.

Marx was completely wrong - it is not class, or class struggle, which is the motor of history. It is human nature and the struggle within it between the kindness instinct and the passionate urgings of ambition. These two wrestle each other as we stagger through life.

There is, of course, some ambition which we can't do without. Einstein's kind, or any great artists' kind, especially jazz musician's kind. We ended Tamara's visit with an evening at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club's late show.

Three of the young artists there were known to me from our days with Hot Dog Jazz, which we set up to promote young jazz talent. They are still young - 20 - but boy have they grown. They were good then, but now they are brilliant. Jazz is humanity expressed spontaneously, the kind and the cruel, but the kind always wins because you can't make jazz without listening to your fellow artists and even to your audience, and you can't do anything with what you hear unless you are sensitive to the soul, so at least for the duration of the performance you are expressing the hope of mankind. I'm serious.

So thanks be to Ruben Fox on tenor sax, Mark Kavuma on trumpet and Shane Forbes on drums, and a great pianist and bassist whose names we have lost, for being a part of that which will save us all. And thanks be to Ronnie Scott's Club.

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