Martin Smith

Tapping into the system

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The camera pans across a row of dilapidated and boarded up vacant properties. Stencilled across the doors is the message, "If animal trapped call 410 396 6286." Yet there are no trapped animals, just abandoned children living on their wits.

Welcome to the world of West Baltimore USA, and the setting of HBO's powerful television series The Wire.

Over the course of its four series (a fifth and final is in pre-production) The Wire takes you into the world of drug dealers, cops, politicians and junkies. In doing so it opens up the maggot-riddled carcass of US capitalism.

'The People Need Jazz'

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Soweto Kinch is one of the most versatile and exciting musicians to hit the British jazz scene in recent years. He talked to Pete Jackson and Martin Smith about his latest album.

Last summer the MOBO (Music of Black Origin) Academy announced that it was going to drop its best jazz artist award. When the awards ceremony took place in September ten musicians held a musical protest outside the venue. One of them was 28 year old Soweto Kinch.

Born in London to parents from Barbados and Jamaica, Soweto is creating a unique sound, one which blends his two musical loves - jazz and hip-hop.

Nothing to Reclaim

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Billy Bragg's quest for a "new England" may well be a waste of time, says Martin Smith. Review of 'The Progressive Patriot', Billy Bragg, Bantham Press £17.99

Musician and political activist Billy Bragg has just brought out his first book, The Progressive Patriot: A Search for Belonging. His family history and the politically honest account of the Anti Nazi League (ANL) and Rock Against Racism's (RAR) fight against the Nazis in the 1970s makes interesting reading. But The Progressive Patriot is not a biography - it's a polemic, one which aims to reconcile patriotism with a radical left tradition.

British Nazi

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Review of 'Black Shirt', Stephen Dorril, Viking £30

There have been two previous mainstream biographies of Britain's most infamous Nazi, Sir Oswald Mosley, and both have serious flaws. The first was Rules of the Game/Beyond The Pale by Mosley's son Nicholas - hardly a neutral affair. The other, called Oswald Mosley, by Robert Skidelsky was an outrageous defence of his turn to fascism and his anti-Semitism. We are on much safer ground with Stephen Dorril's new biography Black Shirt: Sir Oswald Mosley and British Fascism.

Morrissey and the Love That Dare Not Sing Its Name

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Today the pop industry can easily cope with artists who are openly gay, but can it cope with artists singing about men having sex with men?

Morrissey remains one of the most enigmatic and compelling figures in recent pop history. As the lead singer of The Smiths, arguably one of the most important indie bands of the 1980s, his poetic lyrics, romantic anguish, ambiguous sexuality and vision of a troubled and alienated Britain cut with many a sensitive soul. His solo career has followed a similar trajectory. But I want to start this column in a way that I don't mean to continue. The Morrissey of the past is someone I have loathed and hated, but at times sympathised with.

'Playing jazz is a form of resistance. It's about being independent and not conforming. But resistance can also mean standing up to authority'

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Composer and multi-instrumentalist Courtney Pine spoke to Martin Smith about how the battle against prejudice has been a backdrop to his musical career, and about his new album, Resistance.

In 1986 a 22 year old jazz musician from north London released his first solo album, Journey To The Urge Within. His name was Courtney Fitzgerald Pine. The album was a huge hit, breaking into the British Top 40, the first album by a British jazz artist to do so. It established Courtney Pine as a leading figure in the jazz scene. Twenty years later he has just released his 11th album, the critically acclaimed Resistance. He took time out from his 40-date tour to speak to SR about it.

Gospel to Stardom

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Review of 'Dream Boogie', Peter Guralnick, Little, Brown £25

The great black writer James Baldwin wrote in The Fire Next Time, 'There is no music like that music, no drama like that drama of the saints rejoicing, the sinners moaning, the tambourines racing and all those voices coming together and crying holy unto the lord... I have never seen anything to equal the fire and excitement that sometimes and without warning fill a church.' The church and gospel music was the world of the young Sam Cooke. It is a world Peter Guralnick writes about expertly in his new book, Dream Boogie: The Triumph Of Sam Cooke.

Five Hundred Years of Fighting the Beast

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Review of 'Voices of a People's History of the United States', Howard Zinn and Anthony Arnove, Seven Stories £10.99

The campaigner and ex-slave Fredrick Douglass once said, 'If there is no struggle there is no progress. The struggle may be a moral one or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand.' And in a way that statement sums up Howard Zinn's and Anthony Arnove's wonderful new book, Voices of a People's History of the United States. Using speeches, poetry, lyrics, essays and testimonies this book charts often ignored struggles for equality and justice.

Putting the Pressure On

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Battle lines are being drawn between Labour and the unions. But how will the awkward squad deal with the issues?

Gordon Brown has declared war on the PCS civil servants' union. If this Labour government gets its way over 104,000 workers will lose their jobs. But this attack on a key public sector union has much wider implications. Brown also wants to rip up the civil service pension scheme. Across the public sector workers will be nervously wondering if they will be next. Behind the scenes the government is clearing its 'industrial problems' from the decks.

Trade Unions: Making Labour Pay

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The expulsion of the RMT from the Labour Party is hastening calls to democratise trade union political funds - and not before time.

For 100 years the trade union movement has loyally backed the Labour Party. In the past few months real cracks have begun to open up. At midday on 7 February 2004 the Labour leadership expelled the RMT. Its crime? A special conference decision to uphold the right of branches and regions to support parties other than the Labour Party. The decision to expel the RMT was not just made by the cabal around Blair - NEC delegates from Amicus, GMB, GPMU, TGWU and Unison voted for their expulsion. Members of the 'awkward squad' control all five of these unions!

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