Sunday November 6th, 2016. Posted by Alex:

Breaking the Godwin Barrier

In the days when the horrors of Nazi Germany seemed, to some people (particularly people who are not German) something far away that could never happen here, it became understood that once someone accused another of being  like a Nazi camp guard or like a little Hitler, this was a clear sign that insults had taken over from reason. Hence the growth of the convention, known as Godwin’s Law, that when a discussion got to the point where those analogies were being thrown around, the first person to use them had automatically lost the argument. It was a nice idea.

But times have changed. The fact is that there are now real analogies between what is happening in the UK and America and what happened in Germany in the 1930s. For the avoidance of silliness, let me make it clear that I’m not saying that May is a little Hitler in the making. Perhaps a little Thatcher, which is bad enough, but not a Hitler. I don’t, however, have the same certainty about Trump. Jonathan Freedland, amongst others, recently summarised his awfulness better than I can. To quote one paragraph:

So a President Trump will change lives far beyond the US. An American leader who believes climate change is a Chinese hoax, who believes terror suspects should be tortured and their family members killed, who believes that Saudi Arabia should have nuclear weapons, who is fascinated by nukes’ power of “devastation” and who has asked repeatedly why the US doesn’t use them; a man who says, “I love war”; a man who drools in admiration for Vladimir Putin and whose disregard for Nato, and refusal to promise to defend a member state if attacked, would all but invite Moscow to invade one of the Baltic states – such a man would plunge all of us into a dark future. That we are not living in the US will not protect us.

But consider this. Hitler’s appointment as chancellor may have been alarming, but it was legal. Intimidation played a significant part, but his acquisition of “temporary” power to act without the consent of the German parliament – to become a dictator – was also legal. And we all know how well that went. (The Wikipedia article on Hitler’s rise to power is worth a look if you’re not familiar with the story.) The parallels are real, and Godwin’s Law no longer applies: we have broken the Godwin Barrier.

Which brings me back to Brexit. Sure, May is not remotely like Trump, thank the Lord. But the ranting of the gutter press, demanding that Parliament should be bypassed, and that the legal system that guards us from dictatorship is an “enemy of the people” is frightening. They are asking for the road to a dictatorship to be opened up. And this, merely on the basis of the fact that the resounding “Errmm…” spoken by the British people had a marginal leaning towards “leave”.

Friday November 4th, 2016. Posted by Alex:

Brexit meets Bake Off

According to the Express yesterday:

JACOB REES-MOGG has savaged the High Court’s ruling Theresa May cannot trigger Article 50 alone, as the leading Brexit campaigner said Parliament passed the Referendum Bill knowing EU-exit would be exercised immediately.

This rather reminds me of Channel Four’s purchase of the Great British Bake Off. Yes, they bought the rights to the programme, at a high price, but we now all know that the services of the presenters – the “talent” – were not included in the sale. It was not in the contract. Or like someone I knew who bought a house in the countryside (this was in Ireland), and was then surprised to find that the garden around the house was not included in the sale. It was not in the contract.

Similarly, Rees-Mogg and the other leave campaigners may have assumed that exit would follow immediately if the vote went their way, and may have assumed that the referendum would be binding, however small the majority. They may have assumed that David Cameron would do what he said (even though it would have been illegal, as we now know). But it was not in the act.

As such, and as the High Court has confirmed, the rules are the usual rules of the British constitution. Even if the referendum had had a large majority one way or the other, rather than the slender 2% that was the actual result, it would only have been advisory. Nothing was included in the act to specify that the result of the referendum would have to be followed.

Friday November 4th, 2016. Posted by Alex:

Working on dual citizenship

Even if I were to hear today that the whole Brexit thing was off (just pretend, of course) I would not be stopping my application for dual citizenship (GB/IT). For those with a choice, who would want to be limited to a country that is sliding into little (white) British insularity? Led as it is by buffoons like Boris Johnson, proven cheats like Liam Fox and wind-followers like Teresa May, who is hard when it comes to the poor but putty in the hands of, say, the sugar industry. She made Boris J into Foreign Secretary, for goodness sake! Either she is stupid or she really wanted to show the rest of the EU that as far as she is concerned they can go and f**k themselves. I suspect the second.

Friday November 4th, 2016. Posted by Alex:

All change

Bear with me – the original purpose of this blog has faded, so it’s going to go through a few changes. If the appearance is wrong, let me know!

In the meantime, the might be a bit to see at site I have for my acoustic blues, namely, so you can have a look at what’s going on over there.

Thursday July 14th, 2016. Posted by Alex:

Boris’ shameless fakery

Ask a guitarist if you don’t at first see how well this sums up. Pretender, liar, self-publicist..


Tuesday October 6th, 2015. Posted by Alex:

I forgot – it’s POOR people who have to work like Chinese, isn’t it?

So Jeremy Hunt thinks (Guardian) that a hefty reduction in the incomes of low earners will encourage them to work hard, like the Chinese, and give them self-respect. He says that ““It matters if you are earning that yourself, because if you are earning it yourself you are independent and that is the first step towards self-respect.” These changes are designed, he tells us, to send “an important cultural signal” about hard work.

Oh. So he’s turned into a radical communist? If this idea – that income should be related more closely to the amount of work done – were pushed through with any consistency his government could start by raising death taxes to something like, let’s say, 99%. He wouldn’t want to take away the self-respect of the next generation, would he?

Equally, of course, institutions such as the Duchy of Cornwall, the royal family, the Duchy of Westminster and, I suppose, all other people and institutions who make their money from rent paid by other people, rather than from actual work, should be abolished or sent to do essential jobs like shelf-filling and garbage collection, as appropriate.

We should then move on, of course to the investment bankers. No one could for a moment argue that they “earn” their sky-high salaries. After all, between them, they carry much of the responsibility for the financial crash for which working people are still paying heavily. But let’s be generous. Let’s assume that they do work long hours, and are not completely without skill, so let’s allow them to earn more than the national average. We might, to strike a balance between fairness and generosity, say that income above £100,000 per annum would be taxed at again, let’s say, 99%.

What, that’s not his thinking?


It’s POOR people who have to work harder and longer for lower rates of pay in order to make ends meet and to earn their self-respect. The rich and privileged are fine as they are. Silly me.

Wednesday August 6th, 2014. Posted by Alex:

Is the SIAE as bad as they say – Part 2?

So far, in spite of a repeated inquiry, the SIAE have failed to reply. Simona, manager of the “venue” has not been given the money back, although there is some vague talk (that I don’t understand) about offsetting the mistaken payment against future events.

I have therefore written yet again, pointing out that

… all the copyright in the music performed was mine, and I have not assigned the collection rights to anyone else. You (the SIAE) were not entitled to collect it on my behalf.


I therefore need to ask you (the SIAE) this: where, how and when can I collect my money? I would like to give the money to Ms. Ferrari, as I had intended to do the performance for free.

What do you think the result will be?

PS Some of you might like to check out the “Stop SIAE” page at facebook


Wednesday June 25th, 2014. Posted by Alex:

Is the SIAE as bad as they say?

If you happen to have ploughed through you will not be surprised about the resentment felt by many musicians regarding the SIAE (the Italian copyright-collecting agency). In the past, this had been a matter of stories that I had heard, but now I am in the middle of direct experience. We will see whether they are the outrageous quasi-fascist leeches that some people say, or whether they will be reasonable. I will let you know how it goes. Here is the story:

Last Saturday I did what is perhaps best described as a “benefit” gig for a local health food shop, where I have performed before a couple of times. Key points are – an audience of maybe up to 30, nobody paid, nobody got paid, and it was combined with a “tasting” of wine and olive oil. Some tables were put out on the little square outside the shop, and I believe that a little bit of extra trade was done during the hour or so that I played. It’s also important to note that I have changed my repertoire, dropping old favourites like “Love Letters Straight From Your Heart”. This is a deliberate policy, tailored for Italian circumstances – I no longer do any songs in which other people hold copyright. To be sure, the current set includes things like “House of the Rising Sun”, and there would indeed be copyright holders for various recordings of that, such as the famous Animals version, or the Bob Dylan version they learnt it from, or the Dave van Ronk version that Bob Dylan learnt it from, before which it was known as a more “generic” sort of blues. So those *recordings* would be copyright, and if you play them as background music you might be liable to pay copyright fees. But the song itself goes back further.

Unfortunately I did not make it clear in advance to Simona, who manages the shop, that this was the case and she, since there had been more publicity, went to see the SIAE and ended up paying 70 euros! Now the only person with any claims to hold copyright in what I performed is myself. Arrangements of some of the old standards are mine, and some of what I played was indeed my own composition. I have not, however, assigned my rights to any collecting agency, let alone the SIAE. They, therefore, had no right to collect fees on my behalf. If they say that my music is subject to their authority (which clearly isn’t), then I would want to know how and when I get my share of the €70. (Yes, fat chance of that, I know.)

I don’t know what Simona’s markup is, so let’s say that it’s 30%, just the sake of argument. That would mean that she would have had to turn over an *extra* €230 during the hour. Again, I don’t know what her sales were, but it’s hard to imagine that it came to that much.

The upshot is that the work of organising the performance and of giving it served one benefit: fattening the salaries and pensions of the SIAE staff, and boosting the copyright payments to their favourite people, none of whom had anything to do with any of the music that was played.

Anyway, they have been approached and informed that the whole thing is a mistake. Who knows? Perhaps they will say, “Oh, sorry, here is your money back”. We will see.

Sunday March 23rd, 2014. Posted by Alex:

Busking in Italy

This post began as a response, on a closed Facebook group, to a question about busking in Italy. By the time I’d written it I realised that I have collected a fair amount of information and it might be worthwhile “putting it out there”. On the other hand, I am well aware that there are things that I don’t know, and things that I might have got wrong, so I would be very grateful to hear from anybody who knows better. I will edit any other information into the text here.

I began by saying that I really hoped that the questioner would go ahead with the busking plan. There have been some moves in the direction of liberalising small-scale music in Italy, but the fact remains that the atmosphere is still pervaded by attitudes lingering from the Fascist era. (This is not meant as a cheap shot, but as a statement of fact.)

I myself only have a very small experience of busking (and none of that was in Italy), but it’s something I strongly support.

In principle, there is no law against busking in Italy. In that respect, it is much like Britain: apart from nuisance and obstruction, it’s all a question of bylaws. Some bylaws can be structured to encourage good busking, and there are places in England and elsewhere that have done that. Here in Italy, the situation seems to be very mixed.

Since you are likely to come across officials who do not know the law, or who do not agree on the meaning of the law, you will be well advised to make life as easy as possible for yourselves by sorting out as much as you can in advance.

You will therefore want to know what the position is in the commune (pronounced a bit like “ko-moo-neh”, a municipal authority) concerned. The place to start is almost certainly the office for the local police (vigili); if it’s not them, they would almost certainly be able to tell you where you should go.

It is perfectly possible that you will be met with a smile, made to feel welcome, and told what you can do. It is also possible that you will meet the opposite. There is an interesting description of how bad the situation is in Firenze at .

There are, unfortunately, other parts of the bureaucracy that you might have to deal with. One is the people who handle the question of copyright, the SIAE (I think it’s pronounced something like “see-aah-eh”). In theory, for a small performance, you should no longer have to worry about them very much, but it’s possible that they will see things differently. Musicians largely hate them (except for a small number whose pockets they line). I have heard of cases where performers have paid a couple of hundred euros for the rights to present a performance (I think this was a concert-hall setting), as a result of which the composer got no more than a couple of euros. Essentially they are just extracting a tax, much of which feeds themselves and their own pensions. There is another case of the musician who had to pay a lot to perform *his own* compositions, but did not even get that much back. Much will depend here on what you are performing. If you are singing modern standards, they will be able to come for you with all guns firing. If you are doing classical pieces, or your own compositions (provided you haven’t been foolish enough to register your compositions with them or any other collection association like the PRS, for whom they claim representative rights), or traditional material, you should be fine. There have been cases (this is for small, organised events rather than busking) where the SIAE have insisted that a fee for copyright is paid in advance of the performance, and that when they, in their wisdom, finally agree that it none of it was under copyright protection, they will at a later stage return the fee – minus their own management charge, as you may have guessed. Do not imagine for a minute that the SIAE has a close resemblance to Britain’s PRS.

I have prepared the following statement, and am keeping a copy in my instrument case. It ought to help in the event that the “music police” turn up, but the acid test has not yet been tried. Please feel free to copy it and keep a print-out with you. First, the English version:

All music performed or likely to be performed is either my own composition or is of traditional origins. Some versions of some pieces may have been used for copyright-protected publications or recordings at some stage in the past. In all cases, however, my versions emerge from a wider background predating those publications or recordings, in combination with my own creative work.

And the Italian (this translation has been checked by an educated Italian musician):

Tutta la musica eseguita, o che può essere eseguita, o è di mia invenzione o ha origini tradizionali. Qualche versione di alcuni pezzi potrebbe essere già stata ulitizzata per pubblicazioni o registrazioni protette da copyright. In ogni caso, però, le mie versioni emergono da uno sfondo più ampio anticipando quelle pubblicazioni o registrazioni, in combinazione con il mio lavoro creativo.

It is worth bearing in mind that if you do spontaneously play in something like bar, do not be dismayed if the bar manager gets very excited and tells you to stop. The law is such that whoever is construed as the “organiser of an event” is responsible for paying the fees, and there is a high fine for failure to do so. The bar manager has little or no choice but to stop an unplanned performance of live music. (This, of course, is part of what many people would like to see change.)

It is even possible that ENPALS (a statutory sort of insurance/pension fund for people in the performing arts) will come after you, especially if you do at any stage perform in a bar, club, hall, whatever. I heard of a case where some Irish musicians, totally not professional, struck up some tunes in a bar in Italy, and in due course the ENPALS people said that they were “obviously” professional, and therefore they must pay into the ENPALS fund. Someone I know who is a full-blooded professional concert pianist is dismayed by ENPALS, to whom he must pay 20% of his earnings, because he knows there is no way he will ever qualify to get anything back. He said that he would need to perform something like two or three concerts a week for 40 years to qualify. Here, however, you are in fact on safer ground. One of the few reasonable things in all these regulations, is that you are exempt from these charges if you are a) a student less than 25 years old, or b) simply a young person less than 18 years old, or c) a pensioner who is 65 years old or more, or d) paying into another statutory pension fund for your main work, and if, in addition, you are earning less than €5000 per year from your music, then you are exempt. All you need is a “self declaration” which you can download from the net, print, sign, and keep with you. If you can’t find it, I can send you a PDF.

There is, across Europe and elsewhere, a movement to encourage busking and the enrichment that it brings to local culture. But it can be a battle, especially in places (and Italy is not the only one) that like to see everything tidied up, documented, licensed, charged for, approved or not, and generally under the control of the authorities. So I really hope you go for it – let us know what happens!

A summary of the position was helpfully provided by someone else in that group:

Busking is ok in pedestrian areas, but requires a police (“vigili” – the local police) permit. It is free and easy to get. Just show your documents and fill out a form.

Don’t bother in Rome. Tuscany, Emilia Romagna and Ferrara are particularly relaxed about it.

In Milan, You have to go to the police station close to Duomo/San Babila metro, give your details, pay a very small amount and book your slots for the week. They give you a paper permit which you can show to police.

What else needs to be said?

There is a kind of busking project you can read about at


So to flesh this out a bit, we have a friend, whom I know to have very little cash, and certainly none to waste. He held a private party in the village hall – there were perhaps 40 people present at the particular time when I was there. The music played was mostly either traditional or the “invention” of the performers. There was a group playing mostly Irish traditional music, a group of more electrically oriented young lads, and one or two other “acts”. Possibly it’s true that one or two numbers with copyright protection crept in there somewhere. For this pleasure he had to pay around about €140 to the SIAE, and had to fill in all the stupid forms (the famous and hated “bordero”), listing what was performed. The contents of this form was mostly, he admitted, made up, so we know for a fact that the sum of money was entirely at the disposal of the SIAE for their salaries, their pensions, and the people whose pockets they like to line to keep everything sweet.

I checked what the position would be in the UK with the PRS for Music. There would be no fee. The PRS was careful to say that technically they would be allowed to charge a fee, but that they choose not to charge for a private party. (You can see the exact details on their website.) That would probably even have been true even if copyright recorded music was played all afternoon.


Monday June 17th, 2013. Posted by Alex:

What’s holding Britain down isn’t benefits. It’s low pay

This article in the Guardian, in which Zoe Williams gives us some of David Schweickart’s thinking, is one of the most thoughtful contributions to the economy debate I’ve seen for a while.

Repeat after me 7 times in fast succession:

The way to make work pay is to pay for the work at a rate that makes the pay worth working for.