Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Peace talks and funding summit should urge world to try fixing past failures in Syria

World leaders meet in Kuwait on Wednesday for a second annual fund-raising summit for Syria - an event that might evoke some pessimism for its prospects and despair it should even need to have become a yearly event.

As Syria continues to resemble a textbook example of a mishandled country in crisis, the 307,000 new packs of reading material now promised by Britain to refugee schoolchildren in Lebanon may look the lightest of relief.

Yet international development secretary Justine Greening is justified in pointing the finger at other nations whose own input falls far shorter.

Almost half of the £300million in much-needed aid promised so far this year comes from Britain - although at least £900million more should be pledged in Kuwait.

Yet the UN is now appealing for £4billion this year, having received only about 70 per cent of the £3.2billion deemed necessary in 2013 - not to fritter but to provide necessary shelters, food, water and indeed education.

Even as the Assad regime destroys chemical weapons stockpiles, relentless rocket attacks have continued to pulverise towns and cities such as shattered Homs.

An estimated 6.3million people have been displaced within Syria, while Lebanon will soon be home to 1million refugees.

In contrast to the sprawling Zaatari camp in Jordan, those in Lebanon are scattered more disparately across tented camps, crammed basements and garages.

Britain was last year’s third largest donor, offering £231.2million - almost £6million more than Germany, France and Spain combined, and behind only the US (£694.4million) and the European Commission (£356.2million).

Meanwhile, Assad allies Russia and China respectively provided a meagre £9million and £1.9million.
Ms Greening, speaking from a pre-conference visit to Lebanon, told Metro: ‘This summit is massively important.

‘We’re really keen to see other countries around the world play a bigger role in helping those caught up in this crisis through no fault of their own.

‘There are countries not only in the Gulf but also in Europe who could be offering more - we really do need them now to step up to the plate.’

She also demanded safe and free access across Syria for aid workers, amid concerns both the Assad regime and rebels are restricting supplies to their own territories.

The Refugee Council and celebrity backers this week called for Britain to welcome in many Syrians left homeless.

Amnesty UK insisted the UK has not resettled a single Syrian refugee, though foreign secretary William Hague claimed 1,100 were granted asylum between January and September last year.

Yet Ms Greening, like Metro during travels in the region last September, found most refugees desire one thing above all: to go home. Their own homes.

Long-stalled ‘Geneva II’ peace talks are meant to begin next Wednesday.

They may even make some progress, slow as that would be and unlikely as it still seems.

But the least that should be done is as much as the world can do, to ease some of the turmoil borne by so many Syrians as they wait and hope one day to be homeward bound.

Monday, January 06, 2014

RIP Phil Everly, 1939-2014

Global grief at the passing of Phil Everly was aptly soundtracked in more ways than one by the music he and elder brother Don made together, for the Everlys were the – sweet – sound of sadness.

Don’s voice may have been a bit more of a drawling caw, and occupying more of the solo stretches, but it was ideally complemented by Phil’s plaintive high harmonies prettying up the upbeat songs or turning even more winsome the almost-unbearably tender ballads.

The pair were not the first to bring such close-knit harmonies into then-emerging rock’n’roll, following in the countrified footsteps of, say, the Carter Family and later the Louvin Brothers among several.

Yet they provided a mainstream pop snap – and success – that would inspire future artists, such as their future touring partners Simon and Garfunkel or a young Lennon and McCartney.

That Everly influence can be heard resonantly on, for example, The Beatles’ intimately intricate "If I Fell" or – a few long years on - their swansong-album track "Because".

Don and Phil were also an early prototype for rock’n’roll’s feuding-brothers narrative, waging wars of words – or decade-long silences – to make Ray and Dave Davies or Noel and Liam Gallagher resemble the Jonas Brothers by comparison.

And yet their special chemistry was such as to produce, say, their chillingly instinctual revisit of "Let It Be Me" at a 1983 Royal Albert Hall reunion gig following ten years estranged.

Perhaps that sibling tension, simmering beneath the surface of those perfectly-blended voices, actually enhanced their harmonies – inspiring each to conjure intriguingly-divergent melody lines that nevertheless sounded so right together. 

Like John and Paul, Phil and Don gifted each other - and us - through harmonious rivalry.

Growing up the son of a folk music fan dad and a rock’n’roll-loving mum means remembering an Everly Brothers greatest hits cassette being among those most-played on long car journeys way back when in the, er, Eighties.

Back then much of the appeal here came not necessarily from those interwoven vocals, but the choppy yet chiming steel-string guitar chords, the high school hi-jinks of “Bird Dog” or “Wake Up Little Susie” and the rat-tat-tat-tat of “Claudette” or “Donna Donna”.

But there were also those chirpily catchy hooks, delivered so precisely, as well as the lovelorn ballads that even at their most potentially lachrymose – say, “Ebony Eyes” – remained just about gently earnest enough.

Those simple melodies with their to-the-point sentiments and deftly-constructed cadences came from and spoke of love, to all aspiring towards or affected – even, or especially, afflicted – by it.

Love at its most hurt or unrequited, rueful or bitter, joyful or yearning.

Few singers tug at the heartstrings, while shuddering shivers down the spine, like Phil and Don, and their music to woo to, cry over or simply, bittersweetly wallow in.

The irresistible middle of their take on "Love Is Strange" has Phil asking his older brother how he might convince a lost lover to return, prompting a swooning: ‘Baby, oh sweet baby, my sweet baby, please come home.’

"Yeah, that oughta bring her home, Don", admiring Phil warmly replies.

If only the mourning elder could now do the same for the missed younger, allowing him once more to, well, walk right back