Saturday, September 10, 2005

Help: The Sequel

Last night, the stars came out to sing and raise money for the victims of Hurricane Katrina in the US in a one-hour telethon broadcast by the six major TV networks. But it's not the only musical benefit making news this weekend. Over in the UK, some of the biggest acts in Britain entered recording studios in an effort to produce the fastest ever studio album--completed and available for Internet distribution in 24 hours--to benefit the War Child charity and mark the 10-year anniversary of the Help charity album project (which was the beginning of the War Child organization).

As of Friday evening, it's been released for online distribution at £0.99 per song (in WMA, MP3, and AAC/m4a format for Apple iTunes/iPod), or £9.99 for the full album of 22 tracks (which works out to about $18.40US). And it will be released on CD later in September in the UK (I don't see info yet on whether it will be released in the States). What with all the charitable needs going on in our country right now, I'd still recommend this as a good charity investment--as well as darn fine tuneage.

Back in 1995, at the height of the reign of BritPop and Cool Britania as well as the devastation occurring in Bosnia, a wide ranging group of UK musicians came together to produce the Help album, which went from recording sessions to distribution in stores within six days. The Guardian notes this anecdote about how it was all started:

Inspired by a line from Oasis - "I'm going to start a revolution from my bed" - Tony Crean of Go! Discs came up with the idea of a charity record in aid of victims of the Bosnia conflict in the mid-90s.

That album, according to this BBC story sold 71,000 copies on the first day, and raised nearly £2m for War Child within three days. As quite the fan of BritPop back in the day (and still to this day--a large majority of the music I buy originates from the UK, though my interests have become more varied than just the "pop" aspect of the British music scene), the Help album was absolutely massive. In addition to contributions from heavy hitters like Stone Roses, Charlatans, Oasis, and Radiohead--with an album-ending rendition of "Come Together" featuring Oasis, Paul Weller, and Paul McCartney--it also featured a number of truly wonderful tunes and quirky covers from the sub-superstar roster, many of which have become some of my favorite tunes over the years. Suede added a very Bowie-esque touch to Elvis Costello's classic "Shipbuilding" and Sinead O'Connor provided a very dark rendition of the 70s country tune "Ode to Billy Joe." But my two faves are "Mourning Air" by Portishead--really a summation of their entire murky, wrenchingly melancholy sound--and the completely-out-of-left-field acoustic pop (with bonus trumpet outro) of Terrorvision's "Tom Petty Loves Veruca Salt." Far as I can tell, it has nothing to do with either of those artists, but it has a gorgeous, hooky lilt and a gentle call to action in its lyrics--"Maybe it's time to make a beeline/no more sitting on the sideline/haven't got the time to waste time/so maybe it's time to make a beeline"--that I've used for myself over the years to remind me to stay vigilent.

The Help album began the War Child charity, whose mission is summed up on its history page:

One and a half million children have been killed in armed conflicts throughout the world over the last ten years. Four million children have been disabled in these conflicts. Many millions more, themselves traumatised, have had their communities destroyed, or have been denied the opportunity to celebrate in full their childhood and prevented from developing the livelihood skills that they will need to live fulfilling lives as they grow.

War Child's beliefs
War Child believes that children should never be the victims of armed conflict. For those children who become victims of armed conflict, War Child believes that their security and access to quality health, education and recreational facilities and services should still be a right and that, wherever possible, they should benefit from the love and care of their families and communities.

War Child's Mission
By harnessing the commitment to the commonly held belief that children should never be the victims of armed conflict, War Child exists to:
  • provide emergency relief to children and those people they depend upon in areas of armed conflict.
  • protect children who live in areas of armed conflict.
  • address the on-going consequences of conflict on children.

War Child does this by:
  • working with local communities, their organisations and local authorities in both conflict and post-conflict areas to support children and the people they depend upon.
  • ensuring sustainable security for children.
  • promoting child supportive livelihood opportunities.
  • addressing the developmental needs of the most vulnerable and marginalised children.

War Child is currently working on a number of projects across the globe to protect and serve children in areas of conflict. Here's one example from their work in the Democratic Republic of Congo:

There are some 40,000 street children in Kinshasa alone. War Child is currently supporting four centres that take in street children who have mostly been abandoned, separated or displaced by war. The main emphasis of War Child’s work is to provide training to staff working with these children in family reunification and social reintegration methods as well as income generation projects to ensure the local NGO running the centre can generate a source of revenue to contribute towards the children’s school fees and medical costs and overall running costs of the centre. In addition, War Child supports the rehabilitation of the centres to improve what are often appalling conditions.

So, they're doing some good. But what about the tunes? I've only been able to go through Help: A Day In The Life once so far, but my first impressions are that this is a very worthy successor to the original Help album. Some of the highlights: a moody cover of "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" by Keane and Faultline, surprisingly ragga-ish turn by Belle and Sebastian on "The Eighth Station of the Cross Kebab House" and a typically gorgeous number by The Magic Numbers (currently my fave pop band). It's also got some political discourse here and there. I haven't been able to get all the subtext, but The Guardian notes this:

Perhaps unsurprisingly, back in 1995 the young, rock-loving leader of the opposition volunteered his services: Tony Blair presented the album with a specially created prize at the Q awards. Ten years on, the prime minister is coming in for criticism from the new generation of War Child musicians.

Elbow recorded a new song called Snowball, which lead singer Guy Garvey described as dealing with his outrage with Mr Blair's government over the Iraq conflict. Its first line: "The biggest mistakes will be forgiven but the snowball of white lies will crush our hearts."

Here's the full track listing (in alphabetical order of artist):
  • Antony and the Johnsons and Boy George - Happy Xmas (War is Over)
  • Babyshambles - Bollywood to Battersea
  • Belle & Sebastian - The Eighth Station of the Cross Kebab House
  • Bloc Party - The Present
  • Coldplay - How You See The World
  • The Coral (produced by Portishead's Geoff Barrow and Adrian Utley) - It Was Nothing
  • Damien Rice - Crosseyed Bear
  • Elbow - Snowball
  • Emmanuel Jal - Gua
  • The Go! Team - Phantom Broadcast
  • Gorillaz - Hong Kong
  • Hard-Fi - Help Me Please
  • Kaiser Chiefs - I Heard It Through the Grapevine
  • Keane and Faultline - Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
  • The Magic Numbers - Gone Are the Days
  • The Manic Street Preachers - Leviathan
  • Maximo Park - Wasteland
  • Mylo - Mars Needs Women
  • Radiohead - I Want None of It
  • Razorlight - Kirby's House
  • Tinariwen - Cler Achel
  • The Zutons - Hello Conscience


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