Posts Tagged ‘Book Reviews’

Book Review: Believe in People – The Essential Karel Capek

Selected and translated by Sárka Tobrmanová-Kühnová
With a preface by John Carey

(Faber and Faber) £12.99

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

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‘The greatest belief would be to believe in people,’ is the quote from the Czech writer, Karel Capek, which opens this collection of his journalism and letters which has been selected and translated into English for the first time by Sárka Tobrmanová-Kühnová. The line is taken from his 1922 novel, A Factory to Manufacture the Absolute, his vision of consumer society, which alongside a number of his other works, is seen as an early example of, though the terms had not then been coined, of science fiction and speculative fiction. Which include, probably his best known work internationally, RUR (Rossum’s Universal Robots), the play which premiered in 1921 and gave the world the word, ‘robot’, inspired by the Czech word, ‘robota’, which relates to feudal forced labour. Though Capek was keen to point out, as an article from The People’s Paper included in Believe in People states, that it was his brother the artist, writer and poet, Josef Capek, who created the word.

Capek’s belief in people, his avowed humanism, remain undiminished throughout Believe in People, which instil the writings with both a wonderfully inspiring positivity and also an increasing poignancy, as the chronology of each section leads the reader through the all too brief life of the first, liberal democratic republic of Czechoslovakia, from it’s birth in 1918 to the Munich Agreement which sounded its death knell in 1938.

Even in the face of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s radio address infamously labelling Czechoslovakia as “a far-away country” made up of “people of whom we know nothing”, which pre-empted Britain’s signing of the pact with France, Germany, and Italy, in Czechoslovakia’s absence, Capek remained optimistic and as the final piece in the collection, Greetings, demonstrates he continued to believe in, and hold no malice towards the peoples of the signatory nations of the Munich Agreement, and counter to Chamberlains’ words, he found it all too easy bring to mind images of ordinary people in Britain, France, Germany and Italy, going about their day-to-day activities.

“Indeed,” he writes, “one is cross with many, and keeps saying to oneself , what has happened can never be forgotten: how can we possibly communicate with one another in the midst of this unprecedented distance and alienation? And then you think of, say, England, and suddenly you see the little red house in Kent before you. The old gentleman is still trimming the bushes and the girl is pedalling away swiftly and straight. And see you’d like to greet them. How do you do? How do you do? Nice weather, isn’t it? Yes, very fine. So you see, that’s it, and you feel lighter.”

Very sadly, the same day that Greetings was published Capek died from pneumonia, though his friend Dr Karel Steinbach, who was present when died, as Tobrmanová-Kühnová quotes in her introduction, wrote, “As a doctor I know that he died because in those days there were no antibiotics and sulpha drugs, but those who say that Munich killed him also have a great deal of the truth.”

Though had he lived, as a critic of both fascism and communism life would have been very difficult for Capek in the years that followed. Indeed, as Tobrmanová-Kühnová states, when the Nazis arrived in Prague on 15th March 1939, “he was said to be number three on the Gestapo list, and they arrived at his house that same day to find that he had been dead for nearly three months.” His brother, Josef, who had also criticised fascism and Hitler, was arrested, and died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945.

It would be another fifty years until Czechoslovakia could return to being a liberal democracy through the Velvet Revolution of November 1989, lead by Václav Havel. Karel Capek was a key inspiration on Havel, for whom, as he is to many Czechs, as Tobrmanová-Kühnová writes, “he is not only a master of the word but a moral example.” Believe in People is a wonderfully engaging collection, reflective, funny, inspiring, and philosophical. It provides a fascinating insight to the excitement and joie de vivre inherent in the birth of nation, and the devastation at its loss and betrayal, whilst also bursting with insight and wisdom that is as relevant to peoples of  all countries today as when the words were first written.

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Book Review: How Did You Get This Number – Sloane Crosley

(Portobello) £12.99

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

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“Imagine what it is to be rejected by the most sophisticated and casually stunning place in the world. A place filled with the highest percentage of women on the planet able to pull off chinchilla wraps with jeans. To not be welcome in the City of Love is tantamount to being rejected by love itself. Why couldn’t I have gotten thrown out of Akron, Ohio? City of Rubber.”

Though the French authorities have never “formally banished” Sloane Crosley, the sequence of adventures and misadventures that have befallen her in their capital city, as she recounts in Le Paris!, one of the nine essays in How Did You Get This Number, including out of loyalty to a Protestant friend, making a confession at the Catholic cathedral of Notre Dame, despite being Jewish and speaking little French, to a French/Japanese speaking priest, have lead her to feel that she “will not be ‘asked back’ anytime soon.”

Sloane Crosley

Sloane Crosley

Crosley has a magnetic attraction to, come mischievous delight in pursuing, happenstance and circumstance that often leaves her out of step with accepted mores, but in falling out of step she observes and spotlights the absurdities all too common in following the pack and the path of doing something just because that’s what everyone else does. Whilst, with the same wickedly spot on humour and terrific insight, she also navigates and highlights the complexities and perplexities facing a just-turned-thirty New Yorker, both in her home city, following on from her 2008 debut collection, I Was Told There’d Be Cake, and also, as above in Paris, in an SUV in Alaska with a ‘hen party’ wearing bear bells on their pony tails, and in Lisbon in an open air bar with three amateur Portuguese circus clowns…

Smart, sassy, subversive, with a Noir edge – not least in Crosley’s trip to McGurk’s Suicide Hall whilst searching for a new appartment – How Did You Get This Number is a terrific mix of funny, reflective, and revelatory.

Links

Sloane Crosley: neverrockfila.com/crosley/

Portobello Books: www.portobellobooks.com

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Book Review: Wish You Were Here… England on Sea – Travis Elborough

(Sceptre) £14.99

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

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From the vantage point of last year’s Margate Meltdown, the Ace Café’s annual Spring Bank Holiday charity motorcycle ride-out from North London to the Kent seaside town, Travis Elborough, whilst wryly observing the promenade juxtaposition and proliferation of black leather jackets and Mr Whippy ice cream, also reflects on the contemporary, happy camaraderie and intermingling of the Ace Café Rockers and a group of Mods from the nearby Deal Scooter Club. A far cry, he notes, from the violent clashes between Mods and Rockers in the town over Whitsun 1964, which lead local magistrate, Dr George Simpson to not only hand out punitive £50 fines to all those arrested, but also infamously to decry all those involved as, “petty little saw-dust Caesars.”

A speech which served the headline writers very well in stoking moral outrage of the, young people are uncontrollable, it was never like this in my day, variety. As ever it was, as Elborough reveals, “rowdy teenagers had, in a sense, been menacing Bank Holiday festivities since their inception in the 1870s,” and in following this line of research he has uncovered a wonderful article from the Bournemouth Times in 1938, reporting events from the August Bank Holiday and “frothing at the mouth at the mere arrival of ‘groups of youths, some wearing gaudy paper hats with inscriptions such as, ‘Come Up and See Me Sometime’, parading along the Drive singing the latest dance hits.'”

The seaside allure for youth culture is only one component, Margate but one stop along the route of Elborough’s hugely enjoyable exploration of the full English – be it served up by an eccentric landlady in a B&B, dished up en masse in an holiday camp, or under cling film on a paper plate and entirely fashioned from rock – seaside experience, from Brighton to Blackpool, Skegness to Scarborough, New Brighton to Bexhill-on-Sea, and all the people, architecture, and entertainments that give it such redolence, and which has proved such a successful international export.

Travis Elborough ©David X Green www.davidxgreen.com

Travis Elborough © David X Green www.davidxgreen.com

But his Quadrophenia-tinged chapter does serve to highlight the facets that make Elborough such an engaging cultural companion, mixing astute personal observation with gems that only the most assiduous research uncovers, informed by a breadth of sources all of which he approaches with the same informed passion be they historical document, literary text, pop cultural reference, or beach hut conversation, both his erudition and enjoyment of his subject are always to the fore in Wish You Were Here, as they were in his two previous books, The Bus We Loved: London’s Affair with the Routemaster, and The Long Player Goodbye: The Album from Vinyl to iPod and Back Again.

As with the two latter titles, Wish You Were Here is not an exercise in nostalgia, Elborough is adept at choosing cultural subjects to examine and contextualise at points after periods of decline when they prove that the final words in their histories have not been written, in light of the London mayor’s competition to design a new Routemaster, the resurgence in vinyl record sales, and the renaissance that is gathering pace in even the most rundown English seaside towns, which lead Tatler to dub Hastings the ‘Notting Hill of the South Coast’ three years ago, and which makes Wish You Were Here as much a snapshot of the here and now and a penny in the slot telescope view of where we are heading, as it is a postcard of where we have been.

Read an exclusive article by Travis Elborough, A Postcard From Brighton’s Colonnade Bar, written whilst researching Wish You Were Here,  in the Brighton Focus section of issue 5 of the print edition of Plectrum – The Cultural Pick, which also includes contributions from Biba founder, Barbara Hulanicki,  and Brighton based poet, Abi Curtis. FOR MORE DETAILS

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Book Review: Repeat it Today with Tears – Anne Peile

(Serpent’s Tail) £10.99

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

repeat-it-today-with-tears

Occasionally, a book arrives in the post for review, that grips so tightly from an initial glance at the jacket blurb and the first line, that one reads it in a single sitting, straight from the Jiffy Bag, unable to tear oneself away, even if one should want to. Anne Peile’s debut novel, Repeat it Today with Tears, is one of those books.

Set in London in the early 1970s, and narrated by Susanna, a teenager who is studying for her ‘O’ levels, the book charts her search for the father she’s never known, the idealised figure who has been absent from her life, the part she needs to make her whole. When she discovers he is living within walking distance of her home in Clapham, across the river in Chelsea, she affects a meeting, but chooses to conceal her identity, and adding a startling rapier tip to the parrying straightforwardness of the book’s opening line, “The first time I kissed my father on the mouth it was the Easter holiday,” begins an affair with him. To borrow from King Lear, to which there are parallels, in that moment it is as clear to Susanna, as it is to the reader, that ‘that way madness lies’, but so engulfed is she, both by her love and her role, that she becomes both perpetrator and passenger, as ensnared in the tragedy that unfolds, as the reader is compelled to keep reading.

Repeat it Today with Tears is unsettling, not least in its examination of the fragility of boundaries and the close proximity of tipping points, between accepted mores and taboo, between sanity and insanity, between love and the (self-)harm, (self-)loathing, and destruction that can stem from its embrace. It is also an alluring and beautifully written book, with acutely well observed characters, from the protagonists to the vignettes, such as the women doing their laundry at the Nine Elms wash baths.

Peile’s evocation of London, and specifically Chelsea and the areas just south of the river, Battersea, Clapham, Wandsworth, in 1971/1972, is also wonderfully done. She creates a fascinating mix of teenagers and teenage fashion along the King’s Road, in and around the Great Gear Market, and their confluence with the older Chelsea set of artists and bohemians, then still prevalent in haunts such as the Picasso café and The Chelsea Potter pub. Set against the very different world, across the river, a world that had not changed so fast, though change was on its way, not least in the demolition clearing the site for the New Covent Garden market.

All in all, Repeat it Today with Tears is a phenomenally powerful debut novel, and highly recommended.

Anne Peile will be reading from Repeat it Today with Tears at the P-TCP Live Edition at The Horse Hospital on Wednesday 23rd June 2010.  [THIS EVENT IS NOW PAST]

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Book Review: London Babylon The Beatles & The Stones in the Swinging Sixties – Steve Overbury

(Stephen Overbury) £12.99

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

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The film Performance, a chapter on which is included in London Babylon, also acts as a useful cipher for the themes of this intriguing book. The story at the core of Donald Cammell and Nic Roeg’s film, shot in 1968 though not released until 1970, is the societal collision between the East London gangster, Chas (James Fox), and the reclusive rock star, Turner (Mick Jagger), in whose West London house he seeks sanctuary. Interlaced with sex, drugs, violence, and esotericism, darkness undercuts the brightness of the psychedelic, and the cut-up technique blurs the real and imaginary.

Just as the cast and crew blurred the boundaries of fact and fiction, and encapsulated the conventions that ‘Swinging London’ had dissolved, in mixing, around its Kings Road, Chelsea epicentre, the aristocracy, the underworld and the new the new icons of pop- and counter-culture. Both David Litvinoff, the film’s consultant and dialogue coach, and John Bindon, who played one of Chas’ gang, had links to the Krays and the Richardsons, and violence was very much a part of their lives. Whilst the aristocratic antique dealer and interior designer, Christopher Gibbs, created the sets for Turner’s house, and Cammell, born into a privileged background, had been a society portraitist with a studio in Chelsea. Though that said, after boring of the latter, Cammell did live, by all accounts, a formidably unconventional and decadent life.

Unsurprisingly, given all the above, the stories and rumours, from the salacious to the troubling, that surround Performance are legion. Similarly the abutment of such an extraordinary mix of characters and backgrounds that gathered around the Beatles and the Rolling Stones in the mid to late 1960s, has also given rise to equally extraordinary tales that remain highly intriguing even as, with the passage of time, their veracity becomes harder and harder to ascertain.

With London Babylon, Steve Overbury has in part taken a lead from Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon, and also the shorthand and license that appending ‘Babylon’ to a title (vis à vis Imogen Edwards-Jones’ sequence of books) now brings, and does not shrink from recounting those tales in all their salacity and scurrility. Though his focus is not only the famous names, but also the lesser known characters who though they were at the fringes of the Beatles and the Stones, their actions were not without effect. Amongst them, Bindon and Litvinoff, the drug dealer and Keith Richard’s driver, ‘Spanish’ Tony Sanchez, and Count Jean de Breteuil.

Akin to the melting pot of styles and backgrounds present in ‘Swinging London’, Overbury’s book is also an hybrid of styles. As he explains in the introduction, the other motivator behind the book’s title was the discovery in his research that in the 12th century a section of London Wall was called ‘Babeylone’, and throughout London Babylon there are sections which are more formally structured and referenced studies of London’s cultural history. Whilst also threaded intermittently throughout the book are the surprising imagined dialogues between Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney, Jimi Hendrix and others.

London Babylon has clearly been a labour of love for Overbury; to bring the book out he has, as he explains on his website, had to resort to “Punk publishing”, and the hefty work load that that entails. The book is a little rough around the edges, for a future edition a further copy edit would be great, and for me at least a list of sources or bibliography would be fantastic. But that is not to diminish the breadth of Overbury’s passion and research, and the degree to which he has clearly immersed himself in his rich subject matter.

Links

London Babylon: www.londonbabylon.co.uk

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Book Review: Apathy for the Devil A 1970s Memoir – Nick Kent

(Faber & Faber) £12.99

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

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“I felt the explosion full in the face. The force of it hot-wired my imagination, invaded my dreams and taught me everything I needed to know about the realities of youthful self-empowerment,” writes Nick Kent about the impact of his first exposure to the Rolling Stones at the first concert he ever went to. It was 1964, Kent was just shy of his 13th birthday, and through a school friend whose dad was the promoter he not only had a front row seat, but was also invited backstage afterwards to meet the band: “Suddenly I had my future adult agenda mapped out before me.”

That portentous night lit the fuse on the agony and the ecstasy, the insight and addiction, the violence and opprobrium, that would engulf Kent in the following decade. Nine years later he met the Stones again, this time to interview them, by which stage he was a key figure both at the renascent NME and in a golden age of music journalism. The band approved of what he wrote to such a degree they commissioned him, all expenses paid, to accompany them on the final leg of their tour and write a book about his experiences: “my wildest teenage dream becoming a reality.”

But for the highest highs, in every sense, acclaim, and limelight life that the 1970s brought Kent, it also brought him the most extreme counteractions. In the closing scenes of the film Withnail & I Ralph Brown’s similarly kohl eyed character, Danny, laments on the passing of the 1960s, “the greatest decade in the history of mankind is over, and as Presuming Ed here has so consistently pointed out, we have failed to paint it black.” The blackness, which Kent terms the “dark vortex” was to follow in the 1970s, and forms an omnipresent undercurrent to Apathy for the Devil, as “the caring sharing 1960s were dead and gone” and fuelled by increasingly harder drugs, primarily heroin, “now it was every man for himself.”

Apathy for the Devil provides a front row seat, more often than not the edge of that seat, on Kent’s tumultuous journey through those equally tumultuous ten years, and his myriad adventures with those who would define the decade. Ziggy-era David Bowie announces, “So you’re Nick Kent. Aren’t you pretty!” on their first meeting, his dealings with Led Zeppelin become increasingly white-knuckle, as at times is his friendship with Iggy Pop that endures throughout the 1970s. His love affair with Chrissie Hynde ends in heartbreak, sacked twice by the NME, he pursues a music career that, not least through his increasing heroin addiction, fails to kick start but includes giving the first public performance of New Rose, ‘the first British punk single’ whilst playing in the first line up of a band that would become The Damned.

He also developed a close friendship with Malcolm McLaren, also acting as his music culture guide and joining an early line up of the Sex Pistols. Though that friendship was infamously decimated at the Sex Pistols gig at the 100 Club  in 1976 when, at McLaren’s instigation, Sid Vicious beat Kent up, followed up the following year when to announce Vicious joining the Sex Pistols McLaren sent telegrams to the media saying, “he [Vicious] gave Nick Kent just what he deserved at the 100 Club.”

By the end of the decade the “dark vortex” had consumed Kent, and as he adds in the book’s ‘Afterwards’ if time travel became possible “the seventies would be the last time zone in history I would return to.” But his return to that decade in words and memories makes for an extraordinary book, by turns a fascinating, revelatory, insightful, troubling, comedic and tragic, but always engaging account of the irresistible rise and fall of the author and his decade. As Danny in Withnail & I also said, “If you’re hanging on to a rising balloon, you’re presented with a difficult decision – let go before it’s too late or hang on and keep getting higher, posing the question: how long can you keep a grip on the rope?”

Links

Faber & Faber: www.faber.co.uk

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Book Review: London Calling A Countercultural History of London since 1945 – Barry Miles

(Atlantic Books) £25.00

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

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In 1959, the sixteen year old Barry Miles, with a copy of Kerouac’s On the Road in his pocket, hitchhiked from his home in the Cotswolds along the south coast with London as his “ultimate destination.” For as long as he can remember London had exerted a magnetic pull on Miles; once there he made a beeline for Soho. The previous summer, whilst staying with his cousin in Wembley, they had explored Soho and sat “drinking coffee from glass cups” in the 2i’s coffee bar “staring out at Old Compton Street thinking this was the centre of the world as ‘Dream Lover’ by Bobby Darin played on the juke book.”

Soho and London’s West End are at the heart of London Calling because it has been there, as Miles writes, “that the magnet that draws people to London” is located and from 1945 to the 1990s, the period that the book primarily covers, a key area, with forays to the King’s Road and Notting Hill, for the creative and counter-cultural life of the capital. Miles outlines in his introduction that the  focus of the book is more personal history than encyclopaedic: “I have usually described the people I know, or whose work I am most familiar.” But then since his first visit to the 2i’s, Miles has been very well placed not only as a witness but also as key participant in the counter-culture.

Along the Soho streets that Miles explored on his first visits could still be seen the majority of the bohemian milieu that had been drawn to the area in the 1940s and the newer arrivals that began to gather through the 1950s in the pubs and clubs like the French House, the Colony Room, and Ronnie Scot’s, including Julian Maclaren-Ross, Tambimuttu, Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, Colin MacInnes, and George Melly. Many of whom Miles would subsequently meet, and all of whom feature in the first part of London Calling along with the founding of the ICA, the Angry Young Men, and Teddy Boys.

In 1963, after four years at Gloucestershire School of Art, and many such trips hitchhiking to the capital, Miles moved to London, and was directly involved with much of what part two of London Calling explores. As the manager of Better Books in the Charing Cross Road he co-organised the Poets of the World/Poets of Our Time event at the Royal Albert Hall in 1965, the idea for which stemmed from a reading Alan Ginsberg gave at the shop and which was a key event in the creation of London’s underground/counter-culture. The following year with John Dunbar, Peter Asher, and support from Paul McCartney (who was the shop’s first customer) he co-founded the Indica Bookshop and Gallery, where subsequently John Lennon met Yoko Ono.  Also in 1966 he co-founded the International Times, Europe’s first underground newspaper, as a fund raiser for which the following year he co-organised the legendary 14 Hour Technicolor Dream which was headlined by Pink Floyd.

Part two also includes Oz magazine, UFO, The Arts Lab and the film Performance. Whilst part three takes in the 1970s and 1980s via Punk, Alternative Miss World, New Romantics and Neo-Naturists, Gilbert and George and Leigh Bowery.

In the introduction Miles writes that he “also wanted to make the book accessible and amusing as humour is an often overlooked side of the avant-garde, so many of the anecdotes are included purely for the sake of levity.” In this he is entirely successful because London Calling is a wonderfully readable book to which the anecdotal, in addition to Miles’ personal experiences, add another wonderful layer to this fascinating and highly engaging book. To parts of the history which might be better known, they also provide fresh insights, to say nothing of wry smiles! “Recently, walking down Great Chapel Street in Soho,” Miles recounts, “I overheard two young men talking, ‘You know,’ one of them said, ‘looking at this you could easily be in Shoreditch.'”

From the 1990s onwards the “vast acreage” of the East End has developed as the artistic neighbourhood of London, though Miles writes, “it is too spread out to have any real centre” and though there is “plenty of transgression, protest, experimentation, and excess […] it’s just not underground anymore.” Since the mid-1980s, and increasingly so in our fully networked age, art and music have gone mainstream, and though “there will always be cutting edge activity, bohemia has been globalized.”

Read Carla Borel’s StillSoho by Barry Miles from issue 2 of Plectrum – The Cultural Pick  READ MORE

For more on the life and writings of Julian Maclaren-Ross:

Watch the Black Spring Press profile on the Plectrum Broadcast Player which includes contributions from his son Alex Maclaren-Ross, writer Cathi Unsworth, and Robert Hastings, the owner of Black Spring Press. CLICK HERE

Plus from issue 1 of Plectrum – The Cultural Pick:
Book Review: Julian Maclaren-Ross Selected Letters edited by Paul Willetts READ MORE
Independent Focus: Black Spring Press & The Revival of Literary Reputations READ MORE

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Atlantic Books: www.atlantic-books.co.uk

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Book Review: Fashion Jewellery – Catwalk & Couture by Maia Adams

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(Laurence King) £24.95

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

Maia Adams’ supremely elegant new book provides the first overview of the extraordinarily innovative designs and diverse creative practice that has transformed fashion jewellery over recent years and instigated its current renaissance.

Fashion jewellery has antecedents in the costume jewellery of the twentieth century, from Coco Chanel in the 1920s who, as Adams writes, “challenged the status quo that jewels were only for the very wealthy,” to the 1960s and the use of plastic, wood, and paper by designers such as Paco Rabane, to its apogee in the diamante studded 1980s, and the prevalence of the “supersized imitation jewels” of Butler and Wilson, and the rubber bangles and crucifixes designed by Maripol which Madonna made ubiquitous. But as Vicki Beamon, of Erickson Beamon, explains in Fashion Jewellery, “Costume is an antiquated term for jewellery that, on the whole, was designed to look real,” and as Adams elaborates, to define the theme of her book, “this new breed of designer fashion jewellery makes no such claims – its purpose is not to imitate but to innovate.”

Erickson Beamon AW08 jewellery ©Greg Kadel

Erickson Beamon AW08 jewellery ©Greg Kadel

Erickson Beamon are one of the 33 designers profiled in the book, and provide a key link from the 1980s to the present day, three decades during which their “jewels of fantasy,” as Hamish Bowles has written, have reflected the times “from the rollicking, coruscating, dangerous 80s, the sleek, spare, barely there 90s, and our eclectic new century.” Judy Blame equally provides a link to the 1980s and in both his pioneering use of found objects in his jewellery and multi-faceted career that has also included accessories design, styling, and photography,  he has equally become an iconic mentor and inspiration not only to a new generation of fashion designers such as Gareth Pugh, but also to the new fashion jewellery designers.

Judy Blame coin purse ©Judy Blame

Judy Blame coin purse ©Judy Blame

Many of whom, as Adams writes, “work simultaneously as stylists, photographers and fashion, costume, or product designers [which] means that they bring an eclectic arsenal of techniques and influences to bear on a body of work that runs the gamut from craft-based to technology-led; cerebral to silly; witty to whimsical.”

Amongst its line up of luminaries, Fashion Jewellery also features Scott Wilson, long time Hussein Chalayan collaborator, whose  sculptural headwear/jewellery hybrids have become renowned “spectacular catwalk statements” and whose earrings adorn the model on the book’s striking cover. In addition, Laurent Rivaud, to whom Vivienne Westwood went when she choose to launch her jewellery line in 1994, including the iconic orbs, and who now, under his own label R, creates minutely detailed jewellery, antique in appearance, drawing inspiration from a host of influences including Arthur Rackham, Fortunato Pio Castellani, Lord Leighton, and PJ Harvey. Whilst Natalia Brilli wraps an eclectic array of objects such as whistles, sea urchins, scarabs, and watches in leather to create her one-off jewellery pieces.

Natalia Brilli's gemstone bangles

Natalia Brilli's gemstone bangles ©Julien Classens & Thomas Deschamps

Fashion Jewellery is crammed with great photographs, including still lives, catwalk shots, and fashion editorial spreads, working drawings, and features exclusive interviews with many of the featured designers, and provides a fascinating, inspiring, and exciting exploration of an equally fascinating, inspiring, and exciting time in jewellery design.

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Laurence King www.laurenceking.com

Book Review: New Restaurant Design by Bethan Ryder

newrestaurantdesign-cover

(Laurence King) £19.95

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

The sequel to her book Restaurant Design, Bethan Ryder’s New Restaurant Design which is published in paperback for the first time, continues her exploration of the world’s most “elegant, unusual, and spectacular dining spaces.” Underscoring and continuing her theme established in the earlier book that eating out can be “as much a lifestyle choice and source of entertainment as a form of nourishment,” Ryder showcases 45 restaurants grouping their designs under four sections Global Views, New Baroque, Modern Classic, High Concept.

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Philippe Starck features twice in the New Baroque section with both the “fairytale fantasy” of the Bistro of the Faena and Universe hotel in Buenos Aires in which the gilt detailed, snow white furniture is watched over by white unicorn heads emerging from white silk draped walls, and also with Bon in Moscow, the third Bon restaurant but the first outside Paris. Predominantly black and gold the space “conjures up a hauntingly gothic atmosphere” with an interior that includes black crystal chandeliers, gold Kalashnikov lamp bases, distressed, graffiti scrawled walls, and a white skull motif on the black upholstery of the “half burned gilded armchairs.”

Whilst the major feature of the dining experience at Evo, within the High Concept section, are the views of 18 kilometres (11 miles) afforded from the UFO-like glass, geodesic dome perched atop the 105 metre (344 foot) high Hesperia Hotel in Barcelona, designed by Richard Rogers Partnership, Alonso I Balaguer Arquitectes, and GCA Arquitectes Associats. Thus the interior has been kept simple with glossy black lacquered tables, cream chairs, and golden yellow rhomboid-shaped fabric shaded lights which arch up following the curve of the dome “like sci-fi sunflowers.”

Bon, Moscow designed by Philippe Starck

Bon Moscow designed by Philippe Starck

Modern Classic includes the Lebanese architect Bernard Khoury/DW5’s extraordinary Black Box, the restaurant for the shop Aïzone, a branch of Aïshti the Beirut fashion department store akin to Harvey Nichols or Barney’s. The exterior is lined with black aluminium panels and there is a projecting arm which not only contains a three-dimensional picture frame to display images and advertisements, but can also accommodate Aïshti fashion shows. Khoury’s, as Ryder writes, “daring and creative reclamation of war-torn buildings” has continued to reassert the identity of this troubled city; Black Box itself was damaged during the 2006 Lebanon War.

But Khoury remains phlegmatic, as is underlined in Ryder’s interview with him in the introductory section of the book which features interviews with 11 of the most influential restaurant designers (including Patrick Jouin, Marcel Wanders, Rob Wagemans, David Collins):
“Our part of the world raises far more burning and dramatic questions which you are faced with and which you cannot avoid. The problems are so obvious, especially when it comes to entertainment, and the situations are very interesting, I like tough situations, and I don’t like cute, happy little stories. That’s not my department.”

Bon Moscow designed by Philippe Starck

Bon Moscow designed by Philippe Starck

New Restaurant Design is richly illustrated with photographs, drawings, and floor plans, and coupled with Ryder’s erudite, informed, and unstintingly researched text creates both a superb overview of current restaurant design and an highly evocative travelogue.

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Book Review: Fixed – Global Fixed-Gear Bike Culture by Andrew Edwards & Max Leonard

(Laurence King) £17.95

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

fixed-cover
Like surfing and skateboarding, there is an highly addictive and compulsive edge to fixed-gear (or ‘fixed-wheel’ in Britain) riding, often veering into the obsessional, as photographers and filmmakers Mike Martin and Gabe Morford interviewed in Fixed state, “track bikes are a gateway drug to all forms of cycling.” Martin and Morford’s documentary, Mash SF, explores the riding techniques, to say nothing of tricks and hill bombing, developed by 13 San Franciscans in the face of the challenge of riding track bikes without brakes, multiple gears, or the ability to freewheel, around the city, and since its release in 2007 has been highly influential in the global subculture which has grown up around the adoption of track bikes for urban streets. Fixed is the first book to examine both this rising subculture and its sporting and historical antecedents, and provides a fascinating overview.

Chris Boardman breaking The Hour record in 1996 ©Gary M. Prior/Getty Images

Chris Boardman breaking The Hour record in 1996 © Gary M. Prior/Getty Images

Across three sections Racing, Track to Street, and Beyond Riding, Fixed explores the development of the fixed-gear style. The earliest bicycles were all fixed-wheel, but from the turn of the last century the style was predominantly reserved for sports use and has developed through ever greater quests for speed, characterised not least in recent years by Chris Hoy in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and in the 1990s the duelling between, and radical designs employed by Chris Boardman and Graeme Obree, both of whom are interviewed in the book, to win the record for The Hour time trial. From the early 1970s a parallel street culture has developed, initially through the adoption of the style by bicycle messengers in New York, spreading to messengers in other cities worldwide through the 1980s and 1990s.

Keo Curry performs his signature trick, the Keo spin © Kyle Johnson

Keo Curry performs his signature trick, the Keo spin © Kyle Johnson

Whilst in recent years with fixed-gear becoming, as Edwards and Leonard write,  a “wider phenomenon in urban culture, boutiques, and galleries,” designers, artists, and brands including Paul Smith, Ben and Oscar Wilson, Cinelli, Vans, and Nike, have created their own interpretations of fixed-gear bicycles and attendant clothing and accessory ranges.

Riders on the londonfgss.com Tweed Run, January 2009 ©Roxy Erickson

Riders on the London Fixed-Gear & Single-Speed Tweed Run, January 2009 © Roxy Erickson

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Book Review: 100 Years of Menswear by Cally Blackman

(Laurence King) £24.95

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

100yearsofmenswear-cover1

100 Years of Menswear begins and ends with suits; from the accession of Edward VII in 1901 and his influential lead towards a greater informality in dress codes, to Thom Browne whose collections are a direct riposte against the informality of ‘business casual’ and motivated New York magazine in 2006 to declare him the “cutting-edge men’s designer who’s going to save the suit from extinction.” Though with nearly three and half centuries of adaptation and reinvention behind it, to paraphrase Mark Twain’s oft borrowed line, the suit’s death-knell may well be exaggerated. The very dapper Twain also features in the book in a great photograph from 1900 in which he is wearing one of his trademark white serge lounge suits of which, as Cally Blackman writes, “he had 14 made so he could wear a fresh one every day.”

John Hazel, Harold Wilmot, and John Richards arriving at Tilbury docks aboard the Empire Windrush in 1948

John Hazel, Harold Wilmot, and John Richards arriving at Tilbury docks aboard the Empire Windrush in 1948 © Douglas Miller/Getty Images

Though men’s fashion over the last 100 plus years has not been purely about suits, and has also been subjected to a myriad of influences, which means that any book attempting to cover it enters, as Blackman underlines in her introduction, a “minefield” because “the categorisation and classification of looks and styles is notoriously difficult; they are interwoven, overlapping and slippery.” To plot a clearer path through this, Blackman has divided the book into two parts, 1900-1939 and 1940 to the present day, and subdivided each part into six sections through which she explores, for example the impact of uniforms, manual work wear, sportswear, and Hollywood films.

Marc Bolan at home c1975 © Anwar Hussein/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Marc Bolan at home c1975 © Anwar Hussein/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

This works well, particularly as the book is 95% pictorial, enabling changes and developments to be not only clearly illustrated and plotted, but also highlighted through juxtaposition. Which is supremely aided by the quality of the picture research which has resulted in the book, from Terry O’Neill’s fabulous cover shot of David Bowie onwards, being packed with many wonderfully evocative and rarely seen photographs and illustrations.

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Book review: 70s Style & Design by Dominic Lutyens & Kirsty Hislop

(Thames & Hudson) £24.95

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

70s-style-design-cover
There is an amazing photograph in 70s Style & Design that wonderfully encapsulates a number of the key strengths of the book. A shaven haired girl wearing a beret, cat’s-eye specs, and a t-shirt which has had its collar roughly hacked away, slashed to expose her breasts, and is held together with a safety pin. Described thus, one would assume it to be a punk image and one thinks of Ray Stevenson’s shot of Johnny Rotten in a beret, shades, and Seditionaries jacket. Though the image also appears to allude to the early 1980s both in the geometric shapes in primary colours on the t-shirt, but also the shaved head, shades, cover girl perfect heavy blusher and red lipstick, and the contradictory mix of overt femininity and androgyny which evokes Jean Paul Goude’s styling of Grace Jones at that time. But in fact the photograph was styled by Pru Walters in 1973, and the t-shirt is made from a Duggie Fields ‘Kandinsky-inspired’ fabric.

Inherent within this is not only that 70s Style & Design contains a host of brilliant photographs and illustrations, many of which are published for the first time, but also the difficulty in appraising the fashions of any fixed period. They do not neatly begin and end with the calendar proscription of a decade, nor was punk as hermetically sealed from what had gone before, despite the proclamation of Malcolm McLaren and Bernard Rhodes’ ‘You’re going to wake up one more morning…’ proto-punk manifesto t-shirt which listed Duggie Fields firmly in the opposite camp to the then Kutie Jones and his Sex Pistols.

Guy Bourdin’s 1979 advertisement campaign for Charles Jordan ©Guy Bourdin/Art+Commerce

Guy Bourdin’s 1979 advertisement campaign for Charles Jordan ©The Guy Bourdin Estate/Art+Commerce

Dominic Lutyens and Kirsty Hislop have resolutely fulfilled their stated intention to overturn the threadbare “platforms and polyester flares”, time that taste forgot  approach to the 1970s. But over and above this, in their celebration and mapping of its rich diversity and multifarious parallel and often overlapping inspirations and influences from across the breadth of culture, including street fashion and high fashion, architecture and interior design, activism and politics, and the arts, and the through flow from the 1960s and flow on into the 1980s, they have pulled off a feat that the majority of other books of this type on this or any decade rarely manage. Which is to unpick what can appear a Gordian Knot and to present the threads (in all their finery), to spot the links, and to chart how they weave back together with a straight forward clarity that is never simplistic, but is always engaging, highly informed and researched, and acutely well observed.

Steven Behrens necklace chosen for 1979 De Beers Diamond Collection ©De Beers

Steven Behrens necklace chosen for 1979 De Beers Diamond Collection ©De Beers

In this way, for example, it becomes clear that the D.I.Y ethic which is a fundamental and celebrated facet of punk, was also present in the craft revival from the early 1970s, which promoted self-expression though the ideals of “made by hand with heart,” the craze for customisation (celebrated by Jean Paul Goude in a photo story in Nova magazine in 1970, in which the denims of each model have all been individualised through being ‘cut-off’, bleached, or with the addition of fringing, fabric patches, and button badges),  and also the ‘flat-pack’ furniture pioneered by Habitat. Whilst Lutyens and Hislop also parallel the rise of army surplus and utility chic from the late 1960s into the 1970s, which in turn inspired Yves Saint Laurent’s high fashion pea coats and safari jackets, with the High-Tech interior design style. Which at first utilized genuine reclaimed industrial materials, and was used to great effect by Roger K. Burton in his highly influential design for the boutique PX in 1978, before being appropriated by Habitat in their Tech range in 1980.

Helen Robinson in PX photographed by Sheila Rock ©Sheila Rock

Helen Robinson in PX photographed by Sheila Rock ©Sheila Rock

Over recent years the influence of Biba and Barbara Hulanicki, Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren have been increasingly well documented, and as they should  feature here, but placed within the widespread contemporaneous currents their influence and inspirations become yet more fascinating. It is also great to see the less well documented influence of Mr Freedom and the Pop Art, 1950s Americana, and comic strips that it brought to the rich 1970s mix, along the way inspiring Yves Saint Laurent and Elio Firroucci, restored to the prominence it deserves, with the  attendant verve, elegance, and fabulous high colour, with which this book explodes throughout.

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70s Style & Design: www.70sstyleanddesign.com

Thames & Hudson: www.thamesandhudson.com

Guy Bourdin: www.guybourdin.org

Art + Commerce: www.artandcommerce.com

De Beers: www.debeers.com

Sheila Rock: sheilarock.com

Book Review: Manchester – Looking for the Light through the Pouring Rain

Kevin Cummins
(Faber & Faber) £30.00

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

manchester-cover

Beneath the title, Morrissey in silhouette standing on a ledge against a grey sky looks down on a view unseen, though in one’s mind’s eye one sees a Manchester skyline. Cummins’ photograph evokes Bruno Ganz’s Damiel, one of a group of trench coated angels who listen to the tortured thoughts of mortals and try to comfort them (which does sounds like an allusion to Joy Division and The Smiths…) in Wim Wenders’ 1987 film Wings of Desire. Shot by the Rochdale Canal in 1989, industrial architecture looms over Morrissey’s head and his shoulders are hunched as though he carries Manchester’s past, present, and future upon them; never to escape his oft repeated refrain from Suffer Little Children, the closing track from The Smiths’ debut album, “Oh Manchester, so much to answer for.”

If there is a charge to answer in being a key component in establishing and iconicising both the first wave of highly influential Mancunian bands from the mid 1970s into the mid 1980s and then from the late 1980s until the present day doing the same for the second wave (who had been inspired not only by the music of the first wave but also by his photographs of them) then Cummins must plead guilty.  He has been at the centre of the story since witnessing the two Sex Pistols gigs at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in 1976. Gigs whose audiences also included Howard Devoto, Pete Shelley, Steve Diggle, Ian Curtis, Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook, Mark E. Smith, Morrissey, and gave rise not least to The Buzzcocks, Joy Division, The Fall, Magazine, New Order, Factory Records, and The Smiths, all of whom feature in this book. As the music and the drugs changed, Cummins stayed on it photographing The Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, and Oasis, whilst also capturing the divergent splinter projects Electronic, Black Grape, and solo Morrissey.

The story that Cummins’ photographs document, along with essays by Paul Morley, Stuart Maconie, John Harris, and interviews with Johnny Marr, Peter Hook, and Mark E. Smith conducted by Gavin Wright, is as contradictory and contrary as the city and its citizens; elegiac and uproarious, as full of braggadocio as it is introspective, as given to high flown erudition as it is acerbic to perceived pretension, as serious as it is funny. Ian Curtis angular in performance, broods, and reflects in repose, but stays forever young; Shaun Ryder from clutching a giant E of the rooftop signage of the Hotel Subur Maritim in Sitges, Spain at the height of the Happy Mondays, seems to have aged 20 years photographed in a barber’s shop in Havana in 1995; The Stone Roses awash with paint as though brought in with the melting tide from John Squire’s Jackson Pollock-esque cover for their eponymous album; the Gallaghers never crack a smile; Morrissey stays handsome.

Ian Curtis, Joy Division, Futurama, Queen’s Hall, Leeds.  September 1979 © Kevin Cummins

Ian Curtis, Joy Division, Futurama, Queen’s Hall, Leeds. September 1979 © Kevin Cummins

Cummins’ work continues to inspire new generations; two cutting edge examples of whom are Darren Wall, whose Wallzo design studio designed the book, and Richard Milward, who wrote the Foreword. Wall spent his teenage years pouring over Peter Saville record sleeves, and the book has the uncluttered elegance of a Factory artefact, whilst the sky blue of the Manchester City FC home strip of the section separating pages and cover, both looks great and adds an extra layer of association. Whilst Milward captures the chord that Cummins has struck in so many, “For years now, Kevin’s photographs have watched over me and my pals, like debauched religious figures, inspiring us to get intoxicated, wear parkas, pick flowers, and listen to records. Their familiarity is blissful.”

Manchester during the period covered by the book has gone, for better or worse, from post-industrial, post-Blitz dereliction reenergised by Punk, into the international buzzword of Madchester, to regeneration into Manhattanchester. Much has been gained, much has been lost, much has stayed the same; the opening photograph in the book is of a mural painted for a 1977 Silver Jubilee party in a cobbled street of bricked up terraced houses, whilst the closing photograph is of a razor wire topped wall spray painted with a Union Jack slashed with the slogan: ‘There’s no future in England’s dreaming: John Lydon of I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here fame.” The latter is preceded by a photograph of Ian Curtis’s crave inscribed with his name, the date of his death, and “Love Will Tear Us Apart”, and is followed by the equally, achingly poignant, blank white page where Tony Wilson’s Afterword would have been, should have been. Whilst on the facing page the message he left for Cummins three days before he died: “Kevin, sweetheart.  Sorry I haven’t sent the piece to you yet. I’ve just had to go back into hospital. It’s all in my head though, darling. I’ll download it as soon as I come out.”

Gallagher brothers, Oasis Sly Street, East London 21 February 1994 © Kevin Cummins

Gallagher brothers, Oasis Sly Street, East London 21 February 1994 © Kevin Cummins

Much has been gained, much has been lost, but what remains is the spirit of Manchester. One of the last performance photographs is of Noel Gallagher alone, presciently as it would now seem, playing at Teenage Cancer Trust gig in Manchester in 2007, possibly playing The Smiths song that he covered that night, which perhaps acts as a far better response to the title and a refrain for Cummins’ portrait of the city and its people; through the pouring rain, There is a Light that Never Goes Out.

In short, Manchester: Looking for the Light through the Pouring Rain; the pleasure and the privilege is ours.

Links:

Kevin Cummins www.myspace.com/kevin_cummins
Faber & Faber www.faber.co.uk

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Book Review: Memoirs of a Geezer

The Autobiography of Jah Wobble
Music, Mayhem, Life

(Serpent’s Tail) £12.99

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

memoirs-of-a-geezer-cover

Jah Wobble, as he has been dubbed since Sid Vicious’ drunken slurred attempt at saying John Wardle, is one of the infamous ‘four Johns’ who met at Kingsway College of Further Education in North London in 1973. The other three were John Lydon – meeting whom Wobble describes as one of the few “Stanley/Livingstone moments” in his life – Vicious, whose own transformation from John Beverley had come courtesy of Lydon who in turn became Johnny Rotten, and John Gray.

Of the three that became defined by their nicknames, Wobble has been happiest within the skin of his, “the ‘jah’ was  perfect because I was such a big reggae aficionado,” he writes, “I thought that it was perfect, it stood out, and I knew people would never forget it.” Whilst post-Sex Pistols, Lydon’s right to use the name ‘Rotten’ became part of a protracted legal battle with Malcolm McLaren, which was only resolved in Lydon’s favour in 1986, and it could be argued that it was Vicious’ submersion into the character of his nickname, of which Wobble writes, “in terms of twentieth-century iconography Sid’s cartoon-like image is right up there,” that contributed to his untimely end.

Which is not to suggest that the first 50 years of Wobble’s life covered in this book have been plain sailing, as the subtitle underscores they have been full of music, mayhem, and a life very much lived oscillating between the highest highs and lowest lows. The key formative trigger for Wobble to play bass guitar, for which he is most well known, was seeing Bob Marley & the Wailers at the highly influential gigs at the Lyceum in London in 1975, and in particular the rhythm section of Aston and Carlton Barrett. Wobble bought his first bass in 1977, but it was a telephone call early the following year that instigated his musical career when Lydon asked him to join his new band, Public Image Ltd.

PiL (c)Janette Beckmann/Redferns/Getty Images
Martin Atkins, John Lydon, Jah Wobble at Lydon’s Gunter Grove flat  ©Janette Beckmann/Redferns/Getty Images

He played on the first two PiL albums, First Issue and the highly innovative and continuingly inspirational Metal Box, before leaving the band in 1980 to embark on a prolific solo career which has included his bands The Invaders of the Heart and the Human Condition, the album Rising Above Bedlam which was nominated for the inaugural Mercury Music Prize in 1992, losing out to Primal Scream’s Screamadelica. Though Wobble had also played on the latter as part of an equally extensive and eclectic list of collaborations he has undertaken including Sinead O’Connor, Can, Bjork, Baaba Bal, and Brian Eno.

Over the last thirty plus years performing, recording, and writing as a bass player, singer, composer, poet, music journalist, and also through founding his own record company 30 Hertz Records, Wobble has been for better and at times for worse exposed to every facet of the music industry and Memoirs of a Geezer is as much an insider’s story of the seismic changes the industry has been through from Punk to Rave to digital downloads, as a cautionary tale as to how to keep your head above the water of its whirlpool. Which isn’t to say there haven’t been moments when the tide has engulfed him – though he’s been sober now since 1986, his alcoholism contributed to a suicide attempt and the breakdown of his first marriage.

Jah Wobble (c)Graham Jepson
Jah Wobble  ©Graham Jepson

Burnt out by the music industry and in attempt to stabilise his life in 1986 Wobble worked briefly as a cab driver and a courier before getting a job on London Underground – amusingly announcing to a packed rush hour platform at Tower Hill, “I used to be somebody, I repeat, I used to be somebody.” An allusion to the film that is both a favourite and one that he draws parallels with, On the Waterfront,  and Marlon Brando’s character Terry Malloy a promising boxer who is forced to take a dive, and ends up working as a docker surrounded by corruption on all fronts. As this book illustrates Wobble has always stood his ground when faced with anyone or anything with whom he disagreed, in younger days he did not pull his punches and though in later life the punches have become metaphorical they are no less iconoclastic in Memoirs as he tells it exactly as he sees it from Punk, Sex Pistols, McLaren and his PiL band mates through a host of other music and literary figures including Richard Branson, Brian Eno, Peter Gabriel, Iain Sinclair.

It is not only the reverberations of Wobble’s passion for the bass guitar that flow through Memoirs of a Geezer, but also London, and more specifically the East End, his birth place.  Which for forty years, despite a few forays ‘up West’, was not only his home but also provided him with inspirations, challenges, and wake up calls in equal measures, and despite the dramatic changes that it has undergone since the war, which Memoirs vividly charts, a point of stability until eventually that too was irrevocably hindered and he moved to Stockport with his second wife and children. There are flashes throughout Memoirs of a Geezer of another great documenter of London and, if one likes, another dandy geezer, Julian Maclaren-Ross, and in its sense of place and reflection of both sides of the coin of Maclaren-Ross’s most well known and influential writings, Memoirs of the Forties.

Memoirs of a Geezer is an engaging and salutary tale of taking the knocks but refusing to be cowed, a reflection both on the creative processes of making music and the inherent battles in getting that music to wider audiences, and a fascinating and highly evocative cultural history, of people and places many of whom and of which have now changed beyond recognition. But part of the book’s strength is that it is written by a man whose intention is not to document the past and sit back with his pipe and slippers, but whose life has already been so full, that in order to embrace the next half century he needed to download the last, in order to give him a blank canvas, free reign, or what you will, for whatever comes next, which is certain to be just as full of music,  mayhem and life.

Links

Jah Wobble www.30hertzrecords.com
Serpents Tail www.serpentstail.com

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Book Reiview: Liberation – The Bitter Road to Freedom, Europe 1944-1945 – William I. Hitchcock

(Faber & Faber) £25.00
Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

liberation

Liberation is an hugely emotive word and one that for British or American readers when attached to the D-Day landings, the subsequent release from occupation of the western European countries, and the defeat of Nazi Germany, is generally imbued with an overarching sense of triumph and patriotic pride. Whilst William I. Hitchcock, Professor of History at Temple University, USA, does not seek to denigrate the allied military achievement, he does seek to illustrate the often “grim realities”, by drawing on the voices and experiences of both the liberators and the liberated to, as he writes, “show that for every triumph at arms, for every act of heroism on the battlefield, there was also a home set alight, a child without food, a woman cowering in an unheated barn amid filth and squalor.”

In restoring an humanitarianism to the history with all it hardships, ambiguities and contradictory emotions, Hitchcock explores the collective act of ‘memory loss’ that America and Europe have undertaken in promotion of the blanket image of liberation as the joyous crowds thronging the streets of Paris and Brussels, which although very much part of the story are perpetuated at the cost of forgetting, just by a way of small example, that the liberation of Normandy involved the nigh on complete destruction of city of Caen, many smaller towns and villages, and the death of 20,000 French civilians, whilst the Allies’ decision not to attempt to liberate most of Holland in favour of pushing forward to Berlin, left the occupying German force and their deliberate starvation policy in situ until April 1945, by which stage hundreds of thousands of people were suffering starvation related illnesses, having been left with nothing to eat but tulip bulbs, and 16,000 people had died.

In addition, Hitchcock presents many cases in which British, American, and Russian soldiers abused their power through profligacy, theft, looting, sexual assault and murder, leading the liberated to often fear their liberators, borne out by the plea from a Belgian town liberated by the US Army, “Deliver us from our liberators”. Whilst the act of being liberated also released a complex personal emotional response in the liberated, as the writings of Primo Levi, the Italian Jewish Auschwitz survivor, which Hitchcock draws upon, encapsulate, “liberty […] filled our souls with joy and yet with a painful sense of pudency, so that we should have liked to wash our consciences and our memories clean […] face to face with liberty, we felt ourselves lost, emptied, atrophied, unfit for our part.”

Liberation is an important, elegantly written and exhaustively researched book, that makes one question everything one has known, or thought one knew, about the liberation of Europe, and in so doing fills one with a growing sense of alarm that no matter how independently minded or inquisitive one feels oneself to be, it is all too easy to accept constructs of history, and also with sadness that in so doing one may well have failed to consider the plight of millions of ordinary people, civilians and soldiers alike. In readdressing suppressed memories, Liberation, uncovers the essential core to modern European relations, whilst also presenting important historical parallels to contemporary events such as Iraq.

Above all, Liberation should also be celebrated for its humanitarian aims, in which, as Hitchcock writes “there’s surely room enough in our histories of WWII for introspection, for humility, and for an abiding awareness of the ugliness of war.”

Links:
Faber & Faber: www.faber.co.uk

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Book Review: Lowside of the Road – A Life of Tom Waits – Barney Hoskyns

(Faber & Faber) £12.99
Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

lowside

Pausing at a crossroads, Tom Waits casts a glance of displeasure, or so it appears, over his right shoulder in Jill Furmanovsky’s great photograph on the cover of Lowside of the Road. Though perhaps the look is one of challenge, catch me if you can, as there is a distinct element of Holly Martins’ pursuit of his old friend Harry Lime in The Third Man, in the subplot of this absorbing and affectionate unauthorised biography. Hoskyns, who was turned on to Waits whilst spending a Waitsian sounding “long wet summer with Nick Cave, who often played Small Change, Foreign Affairs, and Blue Valentine, in the druggy crashpad we shared in Paddington”, has interviewed the man himself twice in person, in 1985 and 1999, and a number of times on the phone. The first time they met, in speaking of how he is perceived, Waits quoted his huge inspiration, collaborator, and one of a line of surrogate father figures that Hoskyns identifies (including Francis Ford Coppola and William Burroughs), the writer Charles Bukowski, ‘People think I’m down on Fifth and Main at the Blarney Stone, throwing back shooters and smoking a cigar, but really I’m on the top floor of the health club with a towel in my lap, watching Johnny Carson.’

The intriguing couplet at the core of Lowside of the Road is Hoskyns’ quest to both locate the real Tom Waits behind the carefully constructed “Tom Waits” persona which the performer has presented to the world throughout his 40 year career, whilst also promulgating and in many ways seeking to perpetuate the enigma. Allied to another duality that plays out through the book, like a thriller, as a host of friends, collaborators, and acquaintances at first agree to Hoskyns’ interview requests and then rescind after Waits requests they do not co-operate, which leaves Hoskyns feeling both frustrated and offended whilst also entirely appreciative “that it must be a little like being stalked, or just being loved by someone you wish would go away.”

Wherein lies the nub, as Hoskyns is not engaged in a Wildean killing of the thing he loves, rather he has combined phenomenal research and highly erudite critique to create a fascinating exploration of every facet of Waits’ extraordinary career over the past four decades, which includes 20 studio albums, and as many acting roles in films from an evocative list of directors including Jim Jarmusch, Robert Altman, Tim Burton, and Terry Gilliam. Lowside of the Road is a celebration more than worthy of this soon to be sexagenarian.

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Faber & Faber: www.faber.co.uk
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Book Review: Willie’s Chocolate Factory Cookbook – Willie Harcourt-Cooze

(Hodder & Stoughton) £20.00
Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

willies-chocolate-factory-cookbook1

In so far as inspirations may be counted as vested interests, I ought to declare mine from the outset: the tale of Willie Harcourt-Cooze’s quest to produce his Venezuelan Black cacao from bean to bar, as it unfolded with all its highs and lows through the series Willie’s Wonky Chocolate Factory screened on C4 a year ago, was a key motivating influence in the development of Plectrum – The Cultural Pick. Retold in the first part of Willie’s Chocolate Factory Cookbook, with the addition of a contextualising back stories of Harcourt-Cooze’s equally extraordinary childhood and he and his wife Tania’s romantic courtship and wanderlust, in a mere 100 pages the tale which is already an heady mixture of Boys Own adventure story, love story, exhortative lesson in never foregoing one’s dreams, and instruction manual for starting a business, becomes even more compelling and potent in its fast-paced form; its primary ingredient is after all 100% cacao!

When Harcourt-Cooze was three years old his father, in pursuit of his own dream, bought Horse Island off the South West Coast with the intention “to create a self-sufficient idyll” for his family. “I spent most of my childhood in Ireland smoking fish, milling flour, making cheese and pickling fruit,” writes Harcourt-Cooze, “I was reeling in sea trout even before I had learned to ride my first bicycle.” Thus the seeds were sown, and skills learnt, at a very early age that would stand Harcourt-Cooze in very good stead when he and his wife put everything on the line in 1997 to buy and farm the Hacienda El Tesoro cacao plantation in the lea of Venezuela’s Cloud Mountains in pursuit of the dream to grow, and then import to Britain and produce their own chocolate, and in so doing be amongst the very few who have done so since the Cadbury family.

The second part of the book takes the ingredient and runs with it from breakfast to lunch to dinner using cacao in an eclectic mix of over 60 recipes including Huevos Rancheros, Bloody Mary, Sticky Chocolate Ribs, Porcini and Chocolate Risotto, and Cloud Forest Chocolate Cake. All of which reinforce Harcourt-Cooze’s campaign for cacao to become a widely used condiment “alongside the salt, pepper, chillies, and garlic that sit by the side of the oven.”

A hugely engaging and inspiring book with the added attraction that rarely has inspiration tasted this good!

Links
Willie Harcourt-Cooze – Willie’s Cacao: williescacao.com

Hodder & Stoughton: www.hodder.co.uk

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Book Review: Man in the Dark by Paul Auster

(Faber & Faber) £14.99

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

In the grip of insomnia, August Brill attempts to steer his long night’s journey into day away from the darkness of heartache that envelops the three generations gathered in the archetypal white clapperboard house in Vermont. Brill, a 72 year old, Pulitzer Prize winning critic is both mourning the recent death of his wife and recuperating from a car crash, his middle-aged daughter, Miriam, is unable to move on from her divorce, whilst Katya, his granddaughter, is struggling to come to terms with the horrific execution of her boyfriend.

To keep his ghosts at bay, Brill variously attempts to keep his mind distracted by reflecting in detail on the three films that he and Katya watched earlier in the evening, Grand Illusion, The Bicycle Thief, and The World of Apu, reading the manuscript of Miriam’s biography of Rose Hawthorne, the daughter of transcendentalist poet Nathaniel Hawthornel, and most successfully, inspired by Renaissance philosopher Giordano Bruno’s theory of infinite parallel universes, creating a story set in a parallel America, in which the Twin Towers are still standing and the 2000 election of George W. Bush lead not to a War on Terror, but to a second American Civil War, as the union disintegrated as state after state seceded. But, in the “black center of the dead of night” his critique of a nation’s journey into the heart of darkness, is overtaken by the stories of familial tragedy that refuse to be stifled any longer.

Man in the Dark attests to Auster’s extraordinary and rare ability to mix film and literary criticism, philosophy, and political polemic into a novel without ever being prosaic, and in fact creating a book that is so highly readable and tightly written that the thrill of the words and ideas causes involuntary shudders of anticipation at the beginning of every paragraph.

The book has no chapter breaks, just as Brill is afforded no break in his stream of consciousness by sleep. Auster skilfully evokes the rhythm of a restless night both for the man in the dark, and for a nation in the dark. On that broader level, the book may be read as a clarion call, both national and international, that we should heed now and not wait until dawn for the alarm clock.

It is a book that demands to be read in a single sitting, or lying if similarly affected by insomnia; though the themes are often far from comforting, there is comfort to be found in the lonely cloak of sleeplessness that one’s thoughts and fears are shared by others; the “ironic points of light” that WH Auden envisaged in September 1 1939, the poem now so oft associated with 9/11, that “flash out” as “defenceless under the night/our world in stupor lies”.

Links
Faber & Faber: www.faber.co.uk

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Book Review: Through a Glass Darkly – The Life of Patrick Hamilton by Nigel Jones

(Black Spring Press) £11.95

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

Timing and happenstance are key stepping stones with the writing and publishing of biographies and both are to the fore with the propitious republication of Nigel Jones’ authoritative biography of Patrick Hamilton, Through a Glass Darkly.

Hamilton, though a household name from the 1930s to the 1950s, had since in death in 1964 been largely forgotten and his books fallen out of print. When first published in 1991 Through a Glass Darkly was hailed as the harbinger of an Hamilton revival that seemingly stalled on the literary pages.

But, in approaching his subject at a time when people were asking “Patrick who?”, Jones was afforded the opportunity to meet Aileen Hamilton, the widow of Hamilton’s brother Bruce, shortly before she died, and was given a suitcase full of Hamilton’s unpublished letters and papers, which became the foundation of this biography.

Through a Glass Darkly reveals that behind the persona of the successful and debonair author, Hamilton was a near lifelong alcoholic, with a troubled and tortured sexuality, and an obsessive and manipulative nature with regard to relationships, which equally informed his writing, of which this book presents an excellently marshalled and descriptive survey of all his novels and plays.

With hindsight it may now be seen that Through a Glass Darkly was the match to a long fuse, for 17 years later the literary status that Hamilton enjoyed during his lifetime has been firmly re-established with most of his novels back in print, high profile adaptations such as the BBC’s Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky, and the West End revival of Gaslight.

There is a fascinating dichotomy in that Hamilton was very much of his era and wrote about the sad, transient habituées of dingy pubs and boarding houses of London and the South Coast in the interwar year. But Jones posits that Hamilton strikes far more of a chord with modern readers than his contemporaries Graham Greene and George Orwell, because in “our disillusioned, post-political world” there is more interest “in what it feels like to be skint, or pissed, or abused, or besotted with a worthless lover than what your party or religious affiliation might be.”

Further watching and reading about Black Spring Press on the Plectrum Broadcast Player and in the webzine edition of Plectrum – The Cultural Pick:

Watch an interview with Robert Hastings owner of Black Spring Press and and a profile of the publishing house, featuring contributions from, amongst others, Alex Maclaren-Ross, Cathi Unsworth, and Nigel Jones discussing Julian Maclaren-Ross and Patrick Hamilton, on the Plectrum Broadcast Player:  www.theculturalpick.com

Black Spring Press and the Revival of Literary Reputations:  www.theculturalpick.com/webzine/blackspringpress/
Book Review: Julian Maclaren-Ross Selected Letters edited by Paul Willetts: www.theculturalpick.com/webzine/reviewjulianmaclarenrossselectedletters/

Black Spring Press Film Nights at The Society Film Club: www.theculturalpick.com/webzine/blackspringpresspresentsweirdweekends/

Links
Black Spring Press: www.blackspringpress.co.uk

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Book Review: Julian Maclaren-Ross Selected Letters edited by Paul Willetts

(Black Spring Press) £9.95

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

A cash advance large enough to allow him the time and comfort to complete a long novel, as these letters illustrate, remained Julian Maclaren-Ross’s perpetual quest throughout his professional writing career, which spanned the years 1938 to 1964 and is the period covered by this volume. An unswerving mainstay in a chaotic life coloured both by the heavy drinking and the amphetamine fuelled all-night writing sessions that became his daily routine from 1943, and an extraordinary peripateticism. His address changed at least once a year for 26 years as he fled unpaid rent, bills, or simply out stayed his welcome. Within this, the surprise is perhaps not that his quest was unrealised when he died in 1964, but that he managed to produce a body of work of such quality it won the plaudits of many literary admirers, including John Betjeman, Evelyn Waugh, and Anthony Powell.

Selected Letters presents a contradictory figure. An acute self-obsessive, who developed a passionate obsession with George Orwell’s widow, Sonia. A gregarious, compassionate man who equally lent so heavily and demandingly on friendships he took them to breaking point. A focussed writer, adept at inspiring publishers and editors, such as Rupert Hart Davies and John Lehmann, with his work and ideas, but equally adept at expecting them to act as bankers and intermediaries in his personal life before, with equally characteristic mood swings, alienating them with a barrage of letters cataloguing their injustices to him.

There are times in reading this book when one would like to literally throw it at him in exasperation at the spanner he repeatedly throws in the works; if one totted up the advances he received, one would undoubtedly find that he earnt the requisite amount to realise his quest many times over. But such a reaction, fuelled by the subjectivity of what might have been, misses the point that his talent and creativity lay in his chaos and contradictions, into which Selected Letters provides a fascinating personal insight.

Further watching and reading about Black Spring Press on the Plectrum Broadcast Player and in the webzine edition of Plectrum – The Cultural Pick:

Watch an interview with Robert Hastings owner of Black Spring Press and and a profile of the publishing house, featuring contributions from, amongst others, Alex Maclaren-Ross, Cathi Unsworth, and Nigel Jones discussing Julian Maclaren-Ross and Patrick Hamilton, on the Plectrum Broadcast Player:  www.theculturalpick.com

Black Spring Press and the Revival of Literary Reputations:  www.theculturalpick.com/webzine/blackspringpress/

Black Spring Press Film Nights at The Society Film Club: www.theculturalpick.com/webzine/blackspringpresspresentsweirdweekends/

Links:
Black Spring Press: www.blackspringpress.co.uk

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