⚡ Exclusive Interview with Mike Barson from Madness! Russia, Skripal, Putin, Donbass, More!

Those who know me, or knew me growing up would tell you one thing – I was Madness‘ number 1 fan, going to every concert I could, buying every Madness record I could – even if the cost of one, if a rarity, could be most of what I earned in a month on my paper round.

(Myself in a Madness t-shirt, right, 1994)

In 2014, while working in Donbass, I began receiving messages, on Twitter from a ‘Mike Barson’, saying how much he supported my work, and on (read all the messages here). 2014, 2015 was an extremely busy, intense, stressful time – I remember just running the whole time trying to either film something in Donbass, usually the scene of shelling, or the frontlines, or the MH17 site, and more.

(Mike Barson, in an early incarnation of Madness, the Invaders).

I remember briefly having a look at his Twitter page, but did I believe that one of my childhood heroes was really writing to me, supporting my work? Not for a moment, I thought someone who knew what a Madness fan I was, was having some fun at my expense. I wasn’t biting, hardly replied to his messages.

In 2016, I had a bit more time, and decided to look into it. And, well, it turned out really to be Mike Barson. And this here really is his Twitter account. Mike graciously agreed to forgive my reticence of 2014, and give me an interview. Here it is.

GP: I have to ask on a personal level, when you first started supporting my work, and even wrote to me, you are aware that I couldn’t believe it was the real Mike Barson. Does this happen to you a lot, and how do you respond to that?

MB: With great patience 🙂

GP: On Twitter, you have your own account, and seem to chat with all your fans. In the 90s, I recall sending off quite a few letters to fan club addresses, perhaps you never got them. How do you feel about this new accessibility?

MB: Yeah we got a lot more ways to keep in touch these days! I try to answer a few things when I have time tho it’s not always possible.

GP: When fans and so find you on Twitter, they may be surprised that your views are not what we may expect of a celebrity, I say this in my own sphere of Donbass, and Russia. How would you define your views, broadly if so, and how do fans, and others respond to them?

MB: Well I’m not a fan of injustice and hypocrisy and not sure if I’m a celebrity (whatever that is?) but whatever one is in this day and age I feel its one’s duty to speak out as Einstein apparently said…

“The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing”

It seems now more than ever this is a pertinent statement.

What happened in Ukraine was anything but democratic – a violent coup (my picture from Maidan, left) such as took place in Kiev would never in a month of Sundays have been allowed in a European or American city and yet it was cheered on by the so called ‘international community’ and in particular by many American government officials. It lead to a dangerous schism throughout the country.

This illegal undertaking has been the cause of much suffering for the people of Ukraine and many many innocent people being killed (many of which you yourself have documented) the tragic shooting down of a civilian aircraft above Donbass (why was air traffic not stopped above a war zone??? – obviously because it was a war they were pretending wasn’t happening) and then finally having voted Crimea was returned to the Russian federation.

(My photos from MH17, above, and Crimea in March 2014, below)

It’s difficult to argue that this was not other than Russia’s responsibility-duty to protect the historic Russian people of Crimea and the naval base from the danger arising in the aftermath of the coup which was made vividly apparent by the military attacking their own people – a scandal of grotesque proportions that was hardly reported in western mainstream news. One cannot but notice how the coup in particular is very rarely mentioned which skews the whole question of the situation there.

So seeing this injustice, seeing the results the shelling/killing of –
old ladies in their apartments/houses, going about their ordinary business, shopping etc, and young kids playing football etc and seeing it all ignored in the west is shocking and makes one wonder.

When looking into these affairs also those such as the ghastly Odessa Massacre (picture, right) it’s apparent how these ‘far off places’ are treated very differently in the western press. I could only conclude a kind of racism was taking place against the people in Donbass.

They didn’t matter and yet we destroyed Libya because Gaddafi we were told ‘threatened’ his own people – in Donbass we didn’t seem to have the slightest interest they were being killed by their own army.

So my views are that these events expose an enormous hypocrisy in the western press that is very concerning leaving aside the fact it is totally lacking in any kind of morality. When people are dying as a result of this hypocrisy I feel it is ones duty to call it out if one has the opportunity.

To say nothing of the fact there seems to be a program of demonisation against Russia (Newsweek cover, December 2017) in play that has been repeated many times in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya & Syria even leaving aside the ugly immorality of such subversive propaganda exercises the danger that the world is being pushed into and for the benefit of whom should be of great concern to all rational people.

Do we need WW3? For whose benefit? I’ll be happy when Tony Blair, Bush (pictured) and Cheney are in the dock for previous war crimes committed and country’s work together for their own people and abide by international law.

I don’t know what people expect of a ‘celebrity’ but concerning people who ‘look the other way’ and neither say anything nor engage their brains I guess Mr Einstein spoke on that subject already.

GP: Do you chat about political matters with the band members? If so, how do they respond to this.

(recent promo photo of Madness)

MB: Yeah sometimes, but when the press is giving blanket wall to wall coverage that Putin & Russia is to blame for everything its difficult for people not to be effected as Goebbels said “Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth”.

GP: Madness are a British institution now, but early on in your career, you got a rough ride from the press. There’s even a scathing Madness song about journalists ‘Don’t Quote Me on That’, which slams into the lies, and lack of ethics of the trade.

Has journalism changed much in the almost 40 years since this song was written? And what made you start following, supporting my work?

MB: Yeah that was an example of where the press used to have a very unfair advantage, they can say what they like and you have no means to respond, these days it seems one has the possibility to respond within social media which is possibly why the mainstream press is going thru hard times?

These days newspapers seem to be rather removed from ordinary people and their concerns though its encouraging that people are reporting independently I guess like yourself.

(Madness in the early days)

Well that’s quite a point actually what I think has changed is that in that time if someone wrote something that wasn’t true in a newspaper…. (the infamous ‘fake news’) you had very little means to respond, its like someone slapping you in the face and you can’t do anything back.

But now with social media people are able to respond to things that are said that are not true and there is suddenly an accountability for journalists and some of them don’t seem to come out in such a great light.

(recent photo of Mike Barson)

As Glenn Greenwald pointed out a while back, in the political world many of them are simply stenographers repeating what they’ve been told – not really journalism. Also it seems that the variety of news stories and opinions have been very diminished where they now act like one big echo chamber.

For example when MH17 was tragically shot down (I used to live in Amsterdam) it was astonishing how all the western press blamed Putin almost before the aeroplane hit the ground – and they blamed him personally.

(The Week, UK magazine, right)

To me this was not logical or rational – (unless you suffer from a deep bias) – Most people were not following the news from East Ukraine so didn’t know there was a war going on and that many military planes were shot down in the preceding weeks. It was clearly not safe.

The worst case rational scenario is that MH17 was mistaken for a military aircraft ie they were defending themselves in a war and mistakenly shot down the jet? There is no sensible rational reason to blame Putin yet that’s exactly what all the press did. Again avoiding the bigger picture of who was actually attacking who.

(Infamous Sun headline, pictured)

All these newspapers were all carrying the exact same illogical argument which makes you question how, why? Either they are full of bias.. or else there is a less savoury reason there was an intention to blame it on Russia for other reasons.

I became interested and started following your work after the overthrow of the government in Kiev. When the troops and tanks started heading east how western governments backed it all when it was so obviously wrong.

(One of my early videos, Slavyansk, April 2014, a local militia blockpost attacked by Ukrainian forces)

I was pretty shocked to see how the EU who were supposed to be guarantors of the agreement between Yanukovych (pictured) and the opposition simply ignored the agreement signed… European values? That incident really put me off the EU. They actually supported a coup – just look how they treat Catalonia now for a taste of hypocrisy.

You were one of the few people reporting on the situation so I started watching your videos. When the Crimea stuff started happening and everyone started talking about the infamous little green men “were they or were they not Russian soldiers” thing was it didn’t really have any relevance to what was happening, a coup had taken place in Kiev! Why was that ok?

(My video from Kiev, January 19th, 2014)

The lack of any greater unbiased perspective in the news (BBC speciality?) shows the narrowness of the debates in MSM these days.

Slowly it became apparent that the US was involved in the overthrow with things like the release of the Pyatt/Nuland tape (below) in which American diplomats were heard discussing who would be allowed in the new Ukrainian government! These facts was totally excluded from the western press not even recognised let alone discussed.

This injustice was racism, not for black people but for poor East Ukrainians. Such a bias in the press and with such disastrous results. Women going shopping killed in their own flats, kids playing football hit my mortar shells, dropping bombs on town halls blowing up innocent women and all these people were simply dropped by western press like Untermenschen. It was reprehensible and no one seemed to care.

So you were one of the few who was recording these events, I consider you did some kind of service to those poor people who died so unjustly in registering what happened to them. One had to cry seeing some of that shit.

(My video, Donetsk, January 2015)

GP: Your music has been an ever-present in my life for about 30 years. During some of the tougher times in Donbass, I remember listening to the song ‘I’ll Compete’.

It’s maybe one of Madness’ lesser-known numbers. Do you have any personal favourites among the perhaps not so well-known Madness canon? And, btw, Michael Caine, the subject of a classic Madness song is also noted for views differing from his contemporaries, do you ever chat with him?

MB: No I never heard Mr Caine was not following the status quo! Unfortunately never got to meet him. We recorded him at an airport for the track Michael Caine – “I think we got it there don’t you” and that was that!

Strange you were playing ‘I’ll Compete’ in that difficult time!

Personal favourites… not so well known songs… “Never Ask Twice” I guess which we played recently at our House of Fun weekender in Butlins in Minehead, and also I like “Around and Around” which is a number that kept its head down thru the years, a sardonic look at ’success’ which I wrote with Mr Lee J Thompson lyricist supreme, that was a b-side from ‘Lovestruck’. There was an old track called ‘Crying Shame’ I have fond memories of –

I remember playing it in Belfast back the 80’s when life was still… full of promise! 🙂

Also Mr Speaker was not bad.

GP: Many have written to me from Russia saying what massive Madness fans they are. Can you tell the story behind your Red Square gig in 1992.

Last year, notably, Robbie Williams pulled all his Russia gigs – would Madness gig there? How do you feel about your Russian fans?

MB: That’s nice to hear we have some fans out there! Red Square 1992, we did a gig that was to be streamed live to Top of the Pops. We stayed in the Rossiya Hotel, biggest hotel in Russia so they said where we stayed had seen its best days.

We had a stage set up right in front of Saint Basil’s Cathedral that was pretty cool. Unfortunately there was no audience and it was bloody cold! We did a radio show or two as well while we were there, It was just after the disintegration of the Soviet Union a very historic period but when Yeltsin was implementing western economic shock therapy they were difficult times.

We also played at the Kubana Festival in 2014 a stones throw from Crimea which I invited you too but unfortunately you gave me a blank at the time (as explained above, and again, sorry – Graham). We flew along the border close to East Ukraine over the clouds on the way back which was very close to where MH17 was shot down and only a month later which was weird and very sad.

GP: I think it was Suggs who said that he couldn’t imagine doing it all when you’re 30. Now, you’re almost 60 yourself Mike (actually, Mike is 60 today, April 21st!), and on a creative high – Can’t Touch Us Now is an incredible piece of work. When some bands come and go in a year, how have Madness stayed going for 40 years? What’s next?

MB: Yeah indeed who would guess all that time ago. I remember seeing a teacher at school who was 40 years old back in the 70’s, i was about 11 thinking what an old git! verging on the end of the road! who could have guessed life begins at… 59! 🙂

I suppose we lasted as we were mates before we formed a band and always got on – even to this day it remains a congenial bunch! ha ha.

(Single from ‘Can’t Touch us Now’, Mr Apples)

We don’t work as full on as we did in the early days (which drives you round the bend). We just finished a tour of Scandinavia and had a most enjoyable time.

Thanks for the kind words regarding the latest album, I think as long as one doesn’t lose touch with ones inspiration and love of music then all those years only improve ones talent like a good wine 🙂 !

We gained a lot of experience over the years so I think were in a good place at the moment.

GP: Apologies if this is indulgent, but I attach a photo of my collection of Madness singles. How would you rate it? (We can do albums another time 🙂


MB:
10 out of 10 for the single collection!

GP: I’m sure people will read this, and come away with things they didn’t know about Mike Barson. They may not also know that you can tell jokes in Dutch.

Is there anything else to know? 🙂

MB: Without a doubt.

As a post-note, I asked Mike his opinion about the Skripal situation: 

I think its horrible what happened to the Skripals, especially his daughter and I hope they will both fully recover.

Regarding the government handling of what happened I find it painful to see British MP’s failing so completely to apply the basics of law in this country – That one is Innocent until proven guilty. Its ugly seeing people baying for revenge without any proof – and then attacking Jeremy Corbyn for posing a rational civilised question simply asking for proof first. Are MP’s barbarians these days? – rather more like clowns!

In a fast-moving situation, Mike has been vocal with his opinion on the Skirpals, Syria, and other themes, find him on Twitter here – https://twitter.com/MikeBarson108

Givi – One Year On, Remembering a Donbass Legend

One year ago today, February 8th, there was an explosion in the Makeevka (by Donetsk) office of commander of Donetsk People’s Republic Somali battalion, Mikhail Sergeyevich Tolstykh, better known as – Givi.

The details – i.e. who detonated the explosion, and even what kind of explosion are contested to this day. But, the effect was that 36-year-old Givi, a native of Donbass, Ilovaisk, who had served with distinction since the beginning of the Donbass uprising, Slavyansk, noted for his service in the Battle of Ilovaisk, summer of 2014, and the retaking of Donetsk airport, late 2014, early 2015, was killed immediately, on the spot.

One year on from that day, Givi is remembered, and here’s how I remember him: (full English subs)

(18+) 3 Years on from Horrific Ukrainian Shelling Attack on Donetsk (Graphic Videos)

3 years ago, I was covering events in Donbass, as a freelance journalist. January 2015 was a month from hell, Ukrainian shelling hitting Donetsk every day, dead bodies every day.

But, in January 2015, Ukrainian forces saved perhaps the worst until last. In mid-afternoon, a completely unexpected, unprovoked fusillade of shelling rained down by the ‘Hotel Europe’ in the Kubishevsky district of Donetsk. I was there on the scene to cover the horrific aftermath, and these videos, I publish for the first time in a long time, having had to remove them because of YouTube policies.

Strictly 18+

18+ Ukraine Military Shelling of Donetsk, January 30th, 2015 (Photos)

3 years ago, January 30th, 2015, I covered events in Donetsk, as, in mid-afternoon, Ukrainian shelling hit the Kubishevsky region, killing people waiting there for humanitarian aid.

Tomorrow, the 30th, I’ll be publishing exclusive video from that day, which I long since had to remove from YouTube. For today, my photos from the day, and thoughts with the victims.

Google Maps on Donbass – Can it be Trusted?

What’s the first thing you do when you look for a place? Of course, Google Maps, the world’s leading most popular online map, not only that, the world’s most popular app, with 54% of smartphones having it installed at least once.

Yesterday I wrote about Denmark, and despite all, the first thing I did was go to Google Maps. The ‘despite all’ part, is the following – that I’ve serious questions about the impartiality of the internet’s most comprehensive web-mapping service. The other week, I went to do a search for a place in Lugansk, this, th centre of the city of Lugansk, Donbass (now, ok, Google Maps are not going to describe it as the Lugansk People’s Republic, that’s not up for discussion now)


Here, a closer look, and we can clearly see a ‘Monument of victims of ‘russian world’ terror’ marked – 

Clearly, Russian written as ‘russian’ as a mark of disrespect. But that’s an incidental, because this monument, and let’s have a look at the satellite imagery here, for which Google Maps is renowned –


And here is the monument itself, in the centre of Lugansk. But it is not a monument to anything connected with ‘Russian terror’ – it’s a monument to victims of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army – who fought with the Nazis in WWII. 

There are a few things to take into account here. A feature of Google Maps is indeed the ability to add, or name landmarks there. But is there really no limit? Could you just go to the Statue of Liberty and just name it as, well, take your pick… could you just go to Jerusalem, Palestine, etc….

More, I submitted a correction about this to Google a week ago, and they’ve done nothing about it yet. How long has it even been there? Clearly, providing accurate information here is not a priority for Google Maps – so the question is, in how many other places don’t they care about what’s on their maps? 

This is Google Maps, over 7000 employees, constantly investing millions in adding new features – soon they’ll be able to tell you when to get off the bus. And they are so uninterested in checking their maps not only for accuracy, but for that which is clearly grossly offensive….

As for the sheer, crass cynicism of the ‘pro-Ukrainian’, to call them that, who renamed this to attack Russia, without any thought not only for the victims of the UIA, but more for the hundreds killed in Lugansk itself by Ukrainian shelling of the city, in 2014…. well, from them, that’s probably to be expected.

But from Google Maps, we should either expect more, or be aware that when we look at Google Maps, we may be looking at the work of fine geographers and cartographers. Or it could just be some angry activist running amok….

Crimea to Donbass – where Help is more help than Reportage…

As I’ve written, I’ve just returned from an intense 2-month period of work in Crimea, to Donbass. While I was away, Ukrainian media did their usual business, nonsense, by fer8writing that I’d ‘fled Donbass, not to return, etc‘, often adding in their perennial favourite that I’m ‘gay’, for reasons known only to them.

This was a deliberate misuse of what I’d actually said, which was that I had no current plans to film reportage from Donbass. That came after a 3-month period, from May to July, where I’d done everything I could, filmed everything I could, but just couldn’t get people to watch the reportage. I do all of my video reports with the idea that they will change the world, for the better, by delivering the truth, otherwise, why do them?

If it comes to the situation that I know that whatever I do will get at most, a few thousand views, with little or no resonance, it’s hard not to think ‘why bother’, honestly. More, not Crimea humanitarian 13that I judge everything by views, because I could take a video of a cat on a skateboard, or speak about Lady Gaga’s new single, and get a million plus, but they are an indication of how much something is needed, or wanted.

If people don’t need, or want, my reportage from Donbass, as the low views indicated, then foisting yet more would hardly seem the answer. Yet ‘ditching’ Donbass was never, ever even considered. More, I used the time in Crimea – where my reportage reached a mass audience, with views in the millions, to think how better I could help Donbass, if my reportage wasn’t what was required at this time.

I spoke with people in Crimea about this, about Donbass, and gained more insight into this. People in Russia still support Donbass, as before, but, there’s a lot of pain associated with it, it can be painful to watch it. Almost 4 years of war, people still suffering, the Crimea humanitarian 12.jpgdeath of iconic Donbass figures, such as Givi, Motorola. How many videos of people crying that their homes have been shelled can people take?

More, people are aware of the situation in Donbass – it’s tough, but stable. War goes on, at the lines of conflict, homes on the perimeters are still hit by Ukrainian shelling. It’s low-intensity war. This is still a human tragedy, but one that doesn’t translate into mass response to reportage. People know it, are sad about it, but what can they do about it? Everyone is waiting for something to resolve this prolonged, painful, inhumane situation.

So, views of reportage can’t be conflated with concern, or engagement in the Donbass Crimea humanitarian 7.jpgsituation. When in Crimea, I organised gatherings for people to donate goods for humanitarian aid, for Donbass. There was a big response, a large quantity of donations, much more than I could fit in my car. Back in Donbass now, I took everything I could this time, and will arrange transport for the rest, for distribution soon, to children’s homes here.

I’m also recharged after Crimea, back in the mood to do reportage from Donbass, and will do one or two more special reports from here, before the end of the year. However, for now, it’s almost certainly the case that the humanitarian help is of more help to Donbass than my reportage.