Monday, 30 January 2012

Humble Soul: 5th Birthday @ Band On The Wall, Saturday 21st January 2012

Birthdays; opportunities to meet with old friends and fondly reminisce in memories.

For Manchester independent record label Humble Soul it was no different, except that their accumulated friends happen to be some of the finest musicians that the city has offered this millennium.

You could call it eclectic, but this particular bill is more a case of folk and easy listening sandwiched between two examples of aptitude in innovation, Paddy Steer and Denis Jones. The former, a polyrhythmic percussionist who is one half of Humble Soul signee Homelife, opens, but the emphasis is with the latter – the headliner – who is joined by his now regular collaborator David Schlechtriemen (aka The Pickpocket Network).

In between is a midsection comprising the calming Cortina Deluxx and Table, who make use of the grand piano for a selection of compositions designed for the Band On The Wall jazz club in its smokier days; the lack of which may alter the modern day atmosphere but now means you can see as clearly as hear the sobriety and stillness of melody.

They’re bookended by the bands of GladEyes and Aidan Smith, with Smith leading the party game fun; his wonky pop a wealth of between-song banter (calling his brother, the lead guitarist, “Carlos Santander” after a short burst of screaming notes) and light-hearted lyrics (“I took my girl to the cinema complex”).

Smith is constantly wary of the time, indeed most are ushered through at a canter, making the pause for breath ahead of label centrepiece Denis Jones & The Pickpocket Network seem prolonged. It’s soon forgiven throughout a set illustrating the benefits of being allowed freedom of expression without limits to time or creativity, typified by the pounding sculpting of ‘Rage’ grinding the show to a halt over an hour later. With an overall mellower feel than recent displays, the pair emit a variety of progressions from scattered digital darts like a less wacky Dan Deacon to looped samples of a Moondog epigram (“machines were mice and men were lions once upon a time, but now that it’s the opposite it’s twice upon a time”), via a couple of old favourites in ‘Beginning’ and ‘Sometimes’.

A fitting end, temporarily at least, to the Humble Soul output from Manchester. I’ve been assured that the journey will continue from further afield, so hopefully there’ll be many more birthdays to follow.

Words: Ian Pennington
Photography: Declan Cahill

Friday, 27 January 2012

Vice Magazine Issue Launch Event featuring Clockwork Radio & Foreign Hands @ Deaf Institute, Tuesday 24th January 2012

Antiseptic Vice

Oh the incongruity of the situation; a Vice event taking place in a part of Manchester named All Saints and less than 500 yards from a church. There is a distinct lack of protesters outside the venue against such potentially corrupting issues but there are a few smokers getting their nicotine fix. Inside there’s not much to distinguish the occasion from another routine gig night.

It’s not a reflection on the musical ability of Foreign Hands, but each time they play there does appear to be a lack of number of people wanting to hear them. It’s the perennial problem of being the opening band at a gig.

At Antwerp Mansion just before Christmas less than 20 people were in the venue and tonight, at a free event, the sight of them picking up their instruments to start the set sends people scurrying to the steps that form a seating area at the far end of the venue. Only two people remain on the dance floor and they are starting to question the wisdom of providing such a display of loyalty to their Telford compatriots.

It’s a different situation at the end of their performance, by which time there is a substantial number of people congregated around them, with some even chancing their legs and starting to dance.

The drum/bass/guitar trio starts at a relatively sedate pace, with a couple of tight almost funk like numbers that illuminate the richness in Matt Adams’ voice. Couplets such as “Take me now / on this broken tiled floor,” are perhaps as close as we will get to any vice-ness tonight. Then they step up a gear, switching to a more aggressive guitar led sound that doesn’t seem to scare the crowd as much as they thought it would, before leaving with a few more interested listeners in tow.

With five members in the line up, Clockwork Radio are not going to be the type of band that play brisk, sharp sets, but there’s nothing wrong in that.

In the way that the Eurostar train picks up passengers at stops on this side of Dover before travelling along at dizzying speeds, Clockwork Radio similarly construct their songs. It’s a simple piece of percussion from drummer Dan Wiebe that gets things moving, that’s added to in turn by Sam Quinn (keyboards/samples) and as the momentum builds up, the remaining trio of Richard Williams (vocals, guitar), Iwan Jones (lead guitar, vocals) and Nadim Mirshak (bass) jump on board. The songs twist and turn from simple beginnings, in the way that Santana, on ‘Samba Pa Ti’ (ask your parents), negotiates the subtle, percussive sound before breaking out into a full-on guitar blast, then graciously slipping back into a subtle groove.

In front man Jones, they have someone who can be considered either ingratiating or engaging, depending upon your viewpoint to such verbal, between-song throwaways, such as: “This is for all the women with child-bearing hips,” or “We have some CDs for sale at £3 or you can buy the band for the night.” That’s about as scandalous as the evening has been.

Words & Images: Ged Camera

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Interview: Dr Butler's Hatstand Medicine Band

Formed in 2006 with the tunes of ragtime, swing and jazzy blues vibrating from their musical minds through to their stringed instruments of choice, Dr Butler's Hatstand Medicine Band set upon a journey bringing joviality and frown-busting good-time jives to many, from traditional stages small and large to church courtyards, television sets and south Manchester parks.

Their nine-track record Music For Parlours and Promenades, available via bandcamp, is a waltz through jocular rhymes ('Penny Farthing', 'Rosie') and instrumental jig-inducers ('Too Tight Rag', 'The Manchester Shakedown') bringing a range of instruments to the table en route. From washboards to banjos, mandolins to kazoos via acoustic guitar, ukulele and double bass, the multi-talented troupe are well equipped with the tools of uptempo melody.

Co-founder Andrew Butler talks to Now Then Manchester ahead of the band's headline slot at Dulcimer this Sunday 29th January about folk trains, collaborators and loss of balance.

Now Then: How did the Hatstand Medicine Band get its name?

Dr Butler: I’m sure I know this one.

NT: As a flexible group of musicians, how do you decide who plays in which gig? Is there any song-writing autocracy or is it a democracy?

DB: We have core line-up of Dr Butler, Papa John and Black Jack Barnet and when possible the three of us try to do every gig, whether paid or unpaid. Since forming the band in 2006 we’ve worked with loads of other musicians and performers and it’s always lots of fun to have a big band. We’ve done a few gigs in recent times with as many as 10 people on stage. But, the unfortunate drawback about making music with such a big band is the cost.

We’re a democracy in terms of song-writing. Whoever has a new tune just brings it to the table, we will then commence taking the piss out of it, deconstructing it, pointing out misspelled or mispronounced words and drawing his or her attention to how it sounds like something else. Then, if we haven’t broken their creative spirit we’ll all take it to our heart and start working on it. We’re all highly critical of each others work but that keeps us on our toes. We recently co-wrote the lyrics to a new song for our forthcoming album called ‘Beer Festival Calypso’ which was a first for us but it worked really well.

Whoever happens to be playing with us at any given time generally has the freedom to do whatever he or she wants, we rarely dictate what a musician should or shouldn’t play. We’ll be joined by Dom Dudill on fiddle on the 29th and it’ll be the first time he’s ever done a gig with us. Prior to that we had a jam for an hour or so and it was obvious that he was a top musician; we’ll develop our sound on stage, rather than beforehand.

NT: You’re due to travel aboard the folk train again this week and have done so in the past; what are your best memories of those shows?

DB: We’ve been performing on the folk trains since forming the band, so we’ve done quite a few. There have been lots of memorable occasions but one that stands out is one we did on Halloween a few years ago. It was probably the busiest folk train we’ve ever been on, everybody was in costume and it stands out as one of our best gigs I think.

The folk train is a bit like the Olympics for acoustic bands, especially the ones to Hathersage and beyond. You have to entertain the carriage on the way, at the destination pub and also on the way back. So, you have to be musically fit and know a lot of songs. We’re proud to say that we’ve never had to repeat a song on a folk train.

NT: Do you get put off by any bumps or corners? Or does the momentum enhance your musical grooves?

DB: Papa John will inevitably lose his balance at some point but the rest of the band have found their folk train feet over the years. That’s University education for you.

NT: How do unsuspecting passengers react? Have there been any adverse reactions to the concept of live music on public transport, in your experience?

DB: Because it’s a regular commuter train it’s always full of people on their way home from work. For the most part people react positively, it’s difficult not to when people are having so much fun and wearing bowler hats at the same time. But, for some reason the prospect of having to sit in a carriage and listen to banjos and washboards all the way home doesn’t appeal to everyone.

NT: What does the proposed SOPA & PIPA legislation mean to independent artists such as yourselves?

DB: Doesn’t mean anything to us.

NT: Finally, which records are you playing the grooves off at the moment and which of your peers would you recommend?

DB: A devil woman took the record player with her when she went to live with a fat dwarf so I have rows and rows of records gathering dust at the moment. The last thing I had on was a record called The Moon’s in a Fit by a band called the Umps and Dumps, released in 1980. It’s a really interesting mixture of traditional English folk with ragtime and late 19th century popular balladry. It has an excellent re-working of one of Irving Berlin’s less well known songs ‘After You Get What You Want, You Don't Want It’ – “After you've got what you want you don’t want it, if I gave you the moon, you’d grow tired of it soon.”

People should go and watch Krazy Horse and Mik Artistic if they want to be happy. They should catch Aidan Smith, either solo, with his band or with PJ Party if they want to witness a genius song-writing machine. They should try and catch Gideon Conn before he moves to London. They should go to a Josephine gig if they want to hear the most powerful female vocalist in Manchester. If they want something a bit more raucous they should go to the upcoming TNS all-dayer in March, organised by our good friend Andy Davies from Revenge of the Psychotronic Man.

Dr Butler's Hatstand Medicine Band will headline the next Now Then Sunday Soirée gig at Dulcimer on Sunday 29th January. They will be supported by Aidan Smith, James Munro and Shen and more information can be found here. Doors are at 5pm and entry policy is pay-what-you-like with £3 suggested to support artists and future gigs.

Words: Ian Pennington
Poster Design: Hattie Lockwood
Images: Courtesy of Dr Butler's Hatstand Medicine Band (credited on individual photographs where applicable)

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Underachievers Please Try Harder ft. Brown Brogues & Great Waves @ Roadhouse, Saturday 14th January 2012

A Brown Resurrection

In between songs, the guitarist of the Brown Brogues, Mark Vernon, is looking down at the stage with his back to the crowd preparing for the next song when a cry of, “Know any Stone Roses?” rings out. He slowly lifts his head, half turns around and slings a look of disdain in the direction from where the heckle came from. After all wasn’t it the Roses who said, “The past was yours / but the future is mine”?

The future looks bright for the Underachievers Please Try Harder promoters whose nomadic wanderings has led them to the Roadhouse. If a capacity crowd is anything to go by, it will be there for a good while to come. After all, the essential ingredients seem to be in place; an always differing but intriguing line-up combining with excellent between-bands DJ sets and a value for money door price of £3. It’s not a recession buster, more just common sense.

Great Waves by name, great waves by nature as rich textures flow from the guitar and keyboards. The duo stands on opposite sides of the stage, allowing the space between them to be used as a backdrop for a series of projections.

A chiming resonance builds, with a Cocteau Twins style lushness breaking out. Using the past as a reference point only, they take their own directions towards a form of blissed-out beauty before exiting the stage in a myriad of noise and distortion.

The condition of the drum skin is a testament to the ferocity with which it has been assaulted by Ben Mather, the drummer with Brown Brogues; it is held together with gaffa tape. It is always likely that more will be required before the evening is finished.

The guitar and drums duo from Wigan are equally ferocious throughout the rest of their set. They can veer from a Cramps type rawness to a full on deranged onslaught that has a substantial amount of the audience jumping along. It’s effectively simple in that two standard instruments are utilised, but the sound swamps the venue and the passion spilling from the stage is impressive. Like all good performers, they leave to chants of “more”, without any hint of a Stone Roses cover.

Words & Photos: Ged Camera

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Corpsekisser, Maria & The Mirrors, No Womb @ Kraak, Friday 6th January 2012

No Womb at the Kraak Inn

Memories of Christmas are receding fast but some people still appear to be playing with their toys. No Womb is using a set of drums and a bass guitar on max settings to see what they can come up with. Ironically, it is an errant microphone stand that seems to be the most difficult to control as it moves in the opposite direction to where the vocalist has her mouth. The songs seem almost to be about themselves; “I wanna f*** you all day,” (I think) or “She doesn’t care about me,” all delivered in a loud and shouty manner, with the emphasis seemingly on the fun side of DIY music spectrum.

It’s not quite clear exactly when Maria and the Mirrors start their set as they seem to be trying to test their equipment out, but are suffering technical problems. Even in the dimly lit room at Kraak, the trio catch the eye. Crystabel and Keira are seemingly vacuum packed into brightly coloured leather pants, whilst at the rear of the stage on laptop and miscellaneous equipment Charlie has kitted himself out in a lace, see-through one-piece, that’s rounded off with a bicycle chain wrapped around his neck.

One of the percussionists is hitting her pads as hard as she can, with a desperate look of bemusement. No output is coming from them, but the other two are so focused on what they are doing they don’t realise their colleague is in distress. For the listener the fact that only two thirds of the music is being relayed should be an easy point to pick up on, but the intensity and ferocity emerging from the speakers masks this. There’s a look of panic on said percussionist’s face as she screams across to her colleague that, “Nothing’s coming out!”

However, a few tweaks of leads later and the situation is remedied. The resulting bursts of unleashed noise burn the synapses, disrupting the thought process of those in front of the speakers. Tribal rhythms pound the walls of the confined space in a relentless and unforgiving manner. When all 3 are in sync, echoes of early Adam and the Ants with their twin drummers eventually surface, then the pulsations intensify, flooding through the body. As a unit, they can probably do more structural damage than gale force winds.

Corpsekisser don’t as much as take to the stage as sit in front of it. The duo arrange their instruments across the floor as if trying to generate the intimacy of an impromptu music session at a house party.

To label Corpsekisser as a band is perhaps to do them an injustice in relation to the show they put on. The husband and wife combination of Heather & Ethan Swan integrate the visual (faces painted white presumable to simulate a deathly pallor) with mime (all the vocals are all pre-recorded) and dance as displayed via their jerky and angular, at times synchronised, robotic motions. Imagine Peter Crouch doing his robot dance as he celebrates scoring a goal and you’re part way to glimpsing the idea.

Their choice of equipment is quirky, including a toy piano, approximately 12 inches tall, upon which a young child may hit their hands. Their tunes usually last between 30 seconds and two minutes, comprising of sparse tinkling on said piano or a glockenspiel, all of which seems to either leave people bemused or draw appreciative applause.

The New Year has begun.

Words & photos: Ged Camera

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Arts, Music & Events Preview, January 2012

As mentioned in a previous post, the Midwinter supplement of Lass Fest is ongoing at Lass O’Gowrie with an array of comedy and drama productions until Sunday 29th, but there is plenty more to shelter you from the gales.

We’ll start with a relaxed event on Wednesday 11th; down in Didsbury there’s a Manchester Friends of the Earth endorsed film night, screening ‘No Impact Man’, in which New Yorker Colin Beavan decides to eliminate his personal environmental impact for one year.

Onwards to Thursday 12th, which is when the top shout on the Song, By Toad label / blog’s tips for 2012 list, Easter, will be headlining a show at Dulcimer with fellow reverb-friendly post-rockers Outer Dark (three quarters of To Sophia) and Cyril Snear. Before you head along, you will have had ample time to discover and download (legally; ie paying the music maker) the new Borland EP, Romantic Animals, which is organised via local label Gulf Records and sits in the early Nathan Fake-esque cosmic soundscapes corner of electronica.

If you were playing a magical version of Monopoly and encountered a Community Chest card that says you could be a giant for one day then Saturday 14th might be the day to opt for, so that you could leapfrog through town and sample a bit of each of the following. Mellowed out ambient duo A Winged Victory For The Sullen pop into Academy 3 to emit some peaceful tones, the Underachievers clubnight continues its Roadhouse stint by welcoming local indie favourites Brown Brogues and Great Waves and Kraak welcomes the justifiably hotly tipped Trailer Trash Tracys. Given the lack of such a card, you’re going to have to take a chance and choose.

Take a deep breath for a few days after that one.

The first Now Then Manchester show for this year of supposedly imminent oblivion will play host to Dan Haywood’s New Hawks, Samson & Delilah and Ottersgear. Haywood himself has been likened to Nick Drake and Mark Kozelek by critics who were running out of superlatives to describe his self-titled debut album, released late in 2010. That LP documents the ornithologist Haywood’s five years of bird-and-people-watching during travels around Highland Scotland. Combined with the New Hawks, a band comprising talented musicians such as Paddy Steer, Mikey Kenney and Mia Bleach, Dan emits a crazed stage presence, which can be sampled on Thursday 19th at Dulcimer.

If your disco feet are getting itchy by now, then never fear! Casiokids are here. I remember when ‘Fot I Hose’ planted itself in my subconscious back in the day and it hasn’t left since, such was the rhythmic infection bestowed. The Scandinavians’ sophomore LP is due out this year to coincide with a tour that stops at Deaf Institute on Friday 20th.

Humble Soul, believe it or not (you'll have to believe it because it's the truth), will have been promoting some of the area’s finest music for five years this month and have assembled a typically stellar bill for the occasion. Denis Jones, Paddy Steer, Table, Aidan Smith and GladEyes all jostle for attention at Band On The Wall on Saturday 21st. Then as an after party option the Spektrum attic club at Sankeys hosts another edition of Continue through the early hours, this time roping in a recently arrived Manchester resident in the shape of R&S and Magic Wire signee Lone.

Some more folky types will be showcasing some songs at Dulcimer on Sunday 22nd; Imploding Inevitable presents the Manchester leg of Laura J Martin’s album launch mini-tour. As a multi-instrumentalist (flute, piano, mandolin) who favours a looping pedal to build her compositions, Martin brings an off-kilter zaniness to the alt-folk template, leading chirpy melodies through meandering sonic textures. Emily of former Red Deer Club cohorts Stealing Sheep supports in Emily & The Faves guise.

Last year an arts group based at Islington Mill decided that the best way to counter the public sector cuts would be to subject their work to a fiery communal death, very much shaped by its participants, in order to rise again from the ashes with new ideas and outlook. The Artists’ Bonfire returns this year with concern for funding in the arts still ablaze, but interpretations of the event needn’t be as incendiary as the fires, as artists are encouraged to join for reasons both political and personal. This will take place at Islington Mill on Thursday 26th but be aware that the deadline for submissions is Friday 20th.

Warehouse Project may be cocooned for hibernation again pending an announcement of their new lodgings – supposedly in, around or nearby Manchester – but that won’t stop them from treading a nomadic path along with Drop The Mustard in pursuit of some of the best international electronic musicians. Nicolas Jaar is scheduled for Saturday 28th with the likes of Scuba and Damu at the ever impressive Sound Control, which is entering its third year in the dubiously named Southern Quarter.

Also on 28th will be Air Cav's first show of 2012 across the Irwell at the Kings Arms

And if neither of those are striking the right chord then there's the grand reopening of Antwerp Mansion, Rusholme’s answer to Islington Mill. No concrete details as yet, but they don’t tend to operate on anything less than full-speed so it’ll be worth a look. And while your eyes are on the Mansion, have a glance down to the Now Then Manchester monthly there; 4th Thursday of the month from February. More info soon...

On the subject of self-promotion, our monthly Sunday Soirée slot at Dulcimer recommences on Sunday 29th. That one opts for an acoustic feel featuring Dr Butler’s Hatstand Medicine Band and Aidan Smith, with support from James Munro and Shen. Future Sundays will assemble some of the best local comedy (February) and electronica (March), all maintaining an earlier start of 5pm.

Neko Neko has a new single ('Trouble In The Streets' / 'Ya Playin'') lined up for vinyl release via My First Moth on Monday 30th, so I suggest you dust off your record player in preparation. Also scheduled for that day, the home of the aforementioned Samson & Delilah, Little Red Rabbit Records have a taster for Last Harbour's forthcoming album in the form of a single entitled 'Never'.

To finish the month off, Grey Lantern are teaming up with dependable shoegaze selectors Sonic Cathedral, whose signings of a few years back, The Early Years, have reformed and are back on the gig trail, calling at Kraak on Tuesday 31st.

A quick peek into February illuminates an enticing double promoted by Hey! Manchester. Saturday 4th sees a Jesca Hoop show at The Annexe room in The Cornerhouse and then on Monday 6th they bring back the folk / electronica crossover collaboration King Creosote & Jon Hopkins, this time at Central Methodist Hall.

Then a little further along is a special tour for Now Then interview alumnus The Electronic Exchange, who are set to treble in numbers for a full band performance at Kraak on Friday 10th. Also on that bill is Dayse & Aver from the always excellent hip hop collective The Natural Curriculum.

And for the photogenic amongst you, contact The Last Party about appearing in their forthcoming single's video alongside various local celebs from the radio and telly. (The catch is that you'd need to be available over the weekend of Saturday 11th and Sunday 12th February).

I’ll stop there before I chew any further into February...

Words: Ian Pennington

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Preview: Mid Winter Lass Fest 2012

The Lass O'Gowrie on Charles Street (just off Oxford Road) is one of the finest pubs in the city (if not the finest). It serves fine food, excellent beer and there is comic book artwork on the walls. It mixes retro nostalgia and traditional boozer vibes to create something unique that offers something for everyone.

This ethos runs through their often varied and exciting entertainments. Currently ongoing is their Mid Winter Lass Fest that runs until the end of January. There is theatre, comedy, retro gaming, live music and beer tasting with Men Behaving Badly star and home brewer Neil Morrissey.

Theatre-wise things kick off with a sci-fi theme with an adaptation of Alan Moore's feminist space opera Halo Jones and for Doctor Who fans (or indeed fans of intensely scripted and stunningly performed live action terror) Russell T Davies' Midnight using the original script and approved by the author.

Mid January sees the start of a mini Jack Rosenthal season featuring some of his classic Coronation Street scripts (some performed in the bar) and his long lost Play For Today Hot Fat, a fable that still resonates today and has an excellent cast*.

*Okay, full disclosure, I'm in that one.

Towards the end of the month there is a smorgasbord of theatrical premieres: Conor McPherson's The Weir, Rebekkah Harrison's We Took That and Partied and Thinking Out Loud as well as Carly Tarret's one woman show Sinful. Also, for two nights only the return of Brian Gorman's one man bio-play of Patrick Magoohan's life, Everyman, told as if an episode of cult TV classic The Prisoner.

Other highlights include Let's See What Happens, improvised comedy from ComedySportz, Manchester's premier improv troupe, character comedy from the ever charming Danny Pensive and Chap Hop from that most excellent of fellows Mr B The Gentleman Rhymer.

Also, did I mention the beer tasting? The retro gaming? The live stand up and sketch shows from some of Manchester's finest comedians? Not to mention all of the other events too numerous to, err, mention?

Tickets are available on the door or via WeGotTickes by searching for the Lass O' Gowrie or following the links over at their website. NB: capacity is limited and so are the tickets. Don't miss out.

Something evident in the Lass O' Gowrie is the love and dedication put into these events by its managers Gareth Kavanagh and Lisa Connor. They work tirelessly to pull everything together and provide a space for performers of all varieties of entertainment.

There is a growing fringe theatre scene and the Lass O' Gowrie is one of its most important venues, providing a stage for new writing as well as in house productions and revivals of classic scripts. 2012 is going to be a big year for them and they've started it in style.

Words: Sean Mason

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

NHS: Competition and Privatisation

Andrew Lansley’s Health and Social Care Bill has been attacked on many grounds. I’ll summarise these objections before adding my own.

Neither the Conservative Party nor the Liberal Democrat Party mentioned wholesale reforms of the NHS in their manifestos. David Cameron expressly promised there would be no top-down reorganisations. Questions regarding the influence of donations to Andrew Lansley’s political office by private healthcare providers remain unanswered. In January 2010, The Daily Telegraph revealed John Nash, chairman of Care UK, donated £21,000 to Lansley’s private office.

GPs currently receive no training in the commissioning of services and have no expertise in the management of large budgets. The administration of these large sums of money by the same people who provide care will create conflicts of interest and affect the trust that patients place in their doctors. The provision of services by ‘any willing provider’ will lead to fragmentation of services, which will make the co-ordination of care more difficult. Currently, the management of patients with complex medical conditions – e.g. children with multiple related but separate diagnoses, such as cerebral palsy, epilepsy, learning disability or psychiatric illness – require the GPs and specialists to collaborate to provide a delicate, customised, evolving package of care. If the service providers are seeking to compete with one another, the smooth provision of such a package will become more challenging. Similarly, junior doctors require exposure to many environments and specialties during their training. This will become increasingly haphazard.

The bill will lead to duplication of services, rather than the streamlining that one would associate with economic efficiency. The evidence that competition within healthcare improves efficiency is sparse and mixed. The duty of care of the secretary of state to provide or secure health services will be removed.

I wish to add one more reason to oppose the bill; it will make the NHS less beautiful.

Yesterday, I stood at a urinal in an airport in another country. In front of me, there was an advertisement for earplugs. Below the name of the brand and a picture of what one was being led to assume was a satisfied user, it read, ‘Ask for them by name and beware of imitators.’ In other words, buy our earplugs, not our competitors’. We won’t deign to explicitly say that ours are better, but we will imply as much by describing our rivals as ‘imitators’.

Of course, that’s all they can do, because they are just earplugs. How much better can one brand be than any other? But in order to ‘compete,’ they must cast aspersions. They must secure the custom and loyalty of the public. In order to do this, they do not need to provide a better product. They just need to convince the public that they are providing a better product by devoting time and money to doing so.

Is this what we want in healthcare? Apart from the vulgarity of describing health services as products, is the way to deliver the best, safest and most efficient care by opening it up to a system in which each provider will have to budget for advertising as much as they do for the actual care they provide? I not only contest the evidence that this will lead to greater efficiency or better health, but I also object on aesthetic grounds.

The tone of the earplugs advertisement was bullying. It was meanspirited. It aimed to hector me and to denigrate its competitors. It was ugly. But it was a necessary component of the market. And the principles of the earplug market will apply to the healthcare market as well. Providers will vie to convince those who commission services that their product is better, but the cheapest way to do this will not always be to actually provide a better, safer service. Mr Lansley’s hopes that forcing competition on the NHS will also force increased efficiency are misguided. They may lead to increased efficiency in some cases. In others, they will lead to cost-shaving, corner-cutting and the expert concealment of this by companies whose key purpose is to turn a profit.

We have already seen evidence of this in other public services that have been privatised. Within the UK, the railways have become a running joke, and utilities prices are a source of continuing worry for normal people. 15 million British citizens are currently facing fuel poverty. In Australia in April, the outsourcing giant G4S pled guilty to failing to ensure the health and safety of a person in police custody being transferred from one facility to another in one of its private security vans. The man was cooked to death over three hours in the back of the badly maintained van with metal seats, no air conditioning and no water while the outside temperature was above 40°C.

I would like to think that I am wrong. I would like to think that in ten years time, I will look back at these opinions and see them as quaint, but to force myself to think that now would be disingenuous. I believe we are throwing away something great.

Words: Piyush Pushkar (doctormagiot)

This article first appeared in the December issue of Now Then, published and distributed in Sheffield.