Posts Tagged ‘Pick Up’

Review: Parisian Chic City Guide – Ines de la Fressange with Sophie Gachet

Parisian Chic City Guide Cover for P-TCP

(Flammarion) £12.95
Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams
“You can never have enough notebooks,” writes Ines de la Fressange, in her latest book, Parisian Chic City Guide, which is indeed beautifully styled as a notebook, including blank pages for the reader’s own notes and an inner pocket to collect whatever catches one’s magpie eye: tickets, tags, fabric samples, business cards, or precious notes on scraps of paper. “I contracted a notebook fixation,” she continues in her entry for her favourite source for her cahier fix, Dubois, in the Latin Quarter, “and hoard them as if a catastrophic stationary shortage was imminent”.

ParisianChicCityGuide Ines de la Fressange © Alessandra d UrsoFlammarion 2015 for P-TCP

Ines de la Fressange ©Alessandra d’Urso/Flammarion 2015

A perfect pocket companion to the best-selling, Parisian Chic Style Guide, and once again co-written with Elle fashion journalist, Sophie Gachet, the book is wonderfully multi-layered in that it is an exquisite, informative guide to the city, in which de la Fressange divulges her secret sources and her new favourite places to shop, eat, hang out, and more, but also it is written with such an engaging and readable, wit, wisdom, and joie de vivre that it is by turns a fascinating travelogue, an enchanting diary, and a love letter to Paris.

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©Taride, from Parisian Chic City Guide (Flammarion, 2015).

The book is bound with a tricolour bracelet, keeping the contents safe, a bracelet that wouldn’t look out of place at A.B.P. Concept – The Atelier Bracelet Paris boutique, in the 1st arrondissement which specialises in watchbands – “a good and affordable NATO nylon military wristband (only 20€!) paired with any watch will perform honourably in the service of fashion”- and is an Enterprise du Patrimoine Vivant, which is, “the French distinction of a ‘living heritage’ business,” de la Fressagne explains and adds, “That’s so Parisian!”.

pp94-95 Le Petit Souk and Lat Tarte Tropezianne Parisan Chic City Guide for P-TCP

©Le Petit Souk and ©La Tarte Tropézienne from Parisian Chic City Guide (Flammarion, 2015).

Just along the rue du Marché-Saint-Honoré from A.B.P. is Styl’Honoré – a stylo or pen specialist – where, de la Fressange delightfully reveals, “you’ll find one of the last Parisian craftsmen who knows how to cut a quill pen” and the ‘Say it like La Parisienne’ (a style declaration with each entry in the book) declares: “In an era of e-mails, a handwritten letter is the sign of a rebellious spirit”.

ParisianChicCityGuide_p112 Ines de la Fressange shop front for P-TCP

Ines de la Fressange Paris flagship store © Dominique Maître, from Parisian Chic City Guide (Flammarion, 2015)

Described by L’Oréal, for whom she is a brand ambassador, as “The Eternal Parisienne” and “the epitome of French style”, de la Fressange is descended from one of France’s oldest aristocratic families. She began modelling in the 1980s, at the age of 17, on the runways of iconic fashion houses such as Christian Dior, Jean-Paul Gaultier, and Christian Lacroix, and then became Karl Lagerfeld’s muse, and at his request, in 1983, the face of Chanel and global ambassador for the brand, for prêt-à-porter, accessories and perfume. In 1989 she was chosen as the model for Marianne, the national symbol of France. Whilst continuing to model she is also now an highly regarded creative, designer, journalist, writer and business woman. She is creative consultant for Roger Vivier, designs a line for Uniqlo, and this year relaunched her luxury lifestyle brand, Ines de la Fressange Paris.

ParisianChicCityGuide_p112bottomright interior Ines de la Fressange for P-TCP

Interior of Ines de la Fressange Paris flagship store © Dominique Maître, from Parisian Chic City Guide (Flammarion, 2015)

Her flagship store in the heart of Saint-Germain-des-Prés is included in the book, of which she writes, “think of it as a cross between a fantasy department store and a sundries emporium”. It stocks both her brand and items from other designers and makers which she’s sourced in an eclectic range spanning clothes, jewellery, stationery, home  décor items through to brooms and olive oil.

ParisianChicCityGuide_p112centerleft Ines de la Fressange interior for P-TCP

Interior Ines de la Fressange Paris flagship store © Dominique Maître, from Parisian Chic City Guide (Flammarion, 2015)

Divided into five sections, The Heart of Paris, That Marais State, The Latin Quarter, Saint-Germain-des-Prés Style, Chic near the Champs-Élysées, and The Bobo Attitude, covering 12 arrondissements, with maps for each area, the entries range from luxury brands and high-end stores to fantastic finds where one can discover the highest quality at low prices. Including fashion designers, stationers, florists and hairstylists, cafés, hotels, home décor and toy shops, and the wonderfully named, Musée de la Vie Romantique.

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From the legendary Colette and the fabulous timeless lingerie of Fifi Chachnil in the 1st arrondissement, to the evocatively named, Carouche: Interprète d’Objets in the 11th arrondissement– as de la Fressange writes, “anyone who calls herself ‘an interpreter of objects’ deserves our attention”, and then to La Tarte Tropézianne in the 6th arrondissement, the patisserie from which Parisians can now buy the cream-filled brioche which for years was only available in St Tropez… the ‘Say it like La Parisienne’ note wryly appends: “they say pâtissier Alexandre Micka named this confection after Brigitte Bardot. Remember Roger Vadim’s film And God Created Pastry?” Parisian Chic City Guide is a treasure trove journey through the myriad elements of what it is to be truly chic in la Parisienne mode.

Ines de la Fressange Paris
inesdelafressange.fr
Flammarion
editions.flammarion.com

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Book Review: Press Trip – Robin Mead

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eBook: Kindle edition £1.95

 

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

As a child growing up in North London travel writer Robin Mead’s dream, for as long as he could remember, was to be a journalist. “Whilst other boys were dreaming of becoming train drivers, or whatever else constituted professional ambition in the 1940s,” he writes, “I produced mock-ups of newspapers filled with local gossip both real and imagined”. Something which no doubt stood him in good stead some years later when working for a local newspaper he and a colleague, to cover the fact that in their editor’s absence they had spent the day in the cinema watching Some Like it Hot, fabricated a story about a tea-drinking giant cabbage in Ponders End. A plan that backfired when the editor decided it should be front page news and wanted photographs to accompany the article.

Mead’s dream of being a journalist had become a reality in 1953 when, at the age of 16, he joined the Enfield Weekly Herald as a junior reporter on a six-month probationary period leading to a three-year apprenticeship. An entrée into journalism which he reflects now sounds very “old fashioned”. Coincidentally the same year saw the publication of L.P. Hartley’s novel, The Go-Between, which opens with the famous line, “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there”, a line which is both apposite to Mead’s journalistic beginnings and also to Press Trip as a whole.

As a freelance travel writer for over four decades Mead has written 29 travel guide books and over the course of the last five decades countless travel articles for newspapers and magazines worldwide. As a result of which he has visited over 100 countries and continues to travel around 50,000 miles a year. Press Trip, as his first volume of memoirs, is his first book to visit that foreign country that is the past and look back on the many thousands of miles travelled. One of the many fascinating facets of this journey is just how dramatic the changes have been in newspapers, journalism, and travel during Mead’s career.

After serving his apprenticeship Mead moved on to work for national newspapers, first the Daily Herald (which was later re-launched as The Sun), then the Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph, followed by The Times and Sunday Times. At that time Fleet Street was not only a generic descriptive phrase for the national press but also a literal description of where the majority of the newspapers had their offices. During the course of Mead’s career that has all changed – there are now no newspapers based in the street. But when Mead arrived in Fleet Street in 1959, even standing on the pavement in the early evening he could feel “the anticipation and excitement” generated by the fact that, as he evocatively describes:

“deadlines were approaching; news editors were shouting at reporters to finish their stories; sub-editors were sweating over headlines; Linotype machines were chattering with increasing urgency, turning thousands of words into hot metal; in cavernous basements the huge printing presses – as vast and impressive as the mighty steam locomotives I had once so admired – were standing by to begin their nightly ‘run'; and lorries were already lining up to take the first editions to the main line railway stations for distribution around the country”.

It’s not just the location of newspapers that has changed dramatically during Mead’s career, but also the culture within their offices. When he first started working in Fleet Street not only were the titles almost entirely all-male preserves, but many of the senior positions were occupied by former military officers. At the Telegraph newspapers the hierarchies between the ‘officers’ and ‘other ranks’ even extended to which toilets they were allowed to use. Whilst when Mead moved to The Times in the mid-1960s the newspaper, although attempting to shake them off, still had some of its traditional vestiges, as he writes, “sub-editors traditionally had their afternoon tea served by a butler in front of the fire […] and the editor and other department heads liked to get home in plenty of time to change for dinner”.

In the 1986 Mead found himself on the front line, or more specifically the picket line, during the ‘Wapping Dispute’, which brought seismic changes to The Times newspapers, and ultimately would bring about the demise of Fleet Street as the geographical home to the newspaper industry. By the mid-1980s The Times and Sunday Times were owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News International who had secretly built and equipped new offices and a printing plant in the Wapping area of London. The NUJ (National Union of Journalists) advised their members not to work in the new building unless agreements were reached on a raft of issues covering the move. A strike ensued and the strikers, of whom Mead was one, became known as ‘refuseniks’. When the strike ended as he writes in his insightful and emotive chapter covering the dispute, the remaining ‘refuseniks’ were dismissed. Mead went to work at The Observer, but it is clear that having worked for The Times newspapers for three decades the dismissal hurt.

Robin Mead

Robin Mead

The media coverage of travel has also been another big change during Mead’s career growing exponentially hand in hand with the rise in mass tourism and the widespread availability of air travel. “Travel editors were”, as Mead writes, “a rare breed in the early 1960s”. Serendipitously the Daily Herald, his first national newspaper job, did have a travel editor and looked favourably on such content, and his first Fleet Street by-line was an article about a holiday in Cornwall.

By the end of the decade Mead had written over 200 travel articles, including the first travel articles ever to be published in the London Evening Standard, and travel had become very much a buzz word – the BBC began broadcasting its long-running Holiday programme in 1969, which would be followed by ITV’s Wish You Were Here in 1974, both of which would include amongst their regular presenters Mead’s then Travel editor at The Times, John Carter. Whilst keeping a part-time Editorial Executive role at The Times newspapers, Mead launched himself into what he describes as “the Golden Years of travel” (the 1970s and early 1980s) as a freelance travel writer.

Through his many articles and books Mead quickly established himself as an expert on particular countries and areas of travel, principally Greece, Australia, the USA, and closer to home the Channel Islands and Britain, and also on all aspects of cruise ships and cruises. As he reflects on the miles travelled in Press Trip the book becomes not only an highly engaging travelogue filled with amusing, inspiring, often gripping, and sometimes poignant adventures, but also a fascinating and revelatory behind-the-scenes insight into the writing of travel books and articles with all the help, hindrance, and often extraordinary behaviour of PR people, hoteliers and the like, and fellow journalists.

Incidents that include, to highlight but a few, being manhandled away from an interview in the USA with the founder of the Marriot Hotel chain, J Willard Marriot – an interview that Marriot was only too happy to give Mead, whilst Mrs Marriot made cups of tea for them both – by four PR men who held Mead against a wall whilst demanding his interview notes, despite Marriot’s protests. Whilst, on another trip to the US being lead by a PR person into the desert and an ambush by rogue cowboys.

Also, despite speaking only a smattering of Greek, Mead was twice put in situations where he had to be a front man (or as Mead puts it “a ventriloquist’s dummy”) whilst Greek answers were whispered in his ear. The first time was having just landed in Athens airport Mead was made to give a television press conference, in Greek, by his host the owner of Olympic Holidays, whilst the latter whispered the answers to the Greek journalists’ questions to him. On the second occasion a Cretan hotelier implored Mead to meet local people who objected to her plans to build another hotel development – once again Mead responded to the their concerns, all voiced in Greek, via the hotelier whispering the answers to him.

One of my favourite stories in Press Trip occurs far closer to home, during a trip Mead, his wife, and their young sons made to Scotland, to Loch Ness to hunt for the Loch Ness monster.  Which, in a borrowed cabin cruiser fitted with underwater detection equipment they may well have found… except Mead has no proof because when the equipment showed up something very strange immediately below their boat, “we should have stopped to investigate, but instead of reaching for the binoculars or camera, I did what any sensible person would do if they found themselves perhaps 12 feet from a prehistoric monster: I reached for the throttle, jammed it wide open, and headed for the shore as fast as possible”.

Press Trip is a thoroughly engaging and very enjoyable multi-layered book that combines travelogue, cultural history, memoir and more filled with adventure and incident which Mead presents in a wonderfully readable style that is by turns, gripping, humorous, poignant, informative, and inspiring. All-in-all an highly recommended read.

Links:
Robin Mead: http://www.robinmead.com/

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Music Review: Be Bold – Rosie Bans

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EP on release
Available as a free download from iTunes, Bandcamp, streaming on Spotify, or direct from Rosie Bans: http://www.rosiebans.com/

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

How coy that old phrase, ‘to tinkle the ivories’, sounds and how curiously uninvolved with their instrument it makes the player sound, inapposite to the extreme when it comes to the piano pop-punk music of singer-songwriter, Rosie Bans. Live was my first introduction and I was immediately bowled over by the passion, erudition, and power of her words and singing, music and playing, transfixed by the intimate interconnectedness of her and her piano. The keys seemingly rising to meet her touch, allowing her to seamlessly juxtapose and mix supposedly contradictory musical styles, to follow her through sonic experimentation, to allow her to pause in a moment of silence, but never to lose the audience’s captivation.

Coyness equally has no quarter, as its title attests, on her fourth EP, Be Bold. Each of the four tracks is a call to arms to not run scared and to not run out of hope. However much of the former and however little of the latter one might feel. Each of the four tracks also captivates me in just the same way as that first live show did. In my mind’s eye the surfable waves along the keyboard that her songs create achieve such a tidal surge that the keys break free from their bed, leave the speakers, and wrap themselves around me. Sometimes they are pale ivory fingers caressing, sometimes slapping, sometimes they are teeth grabbing me by the scruff of the neck, and occasionally they draw blood. For coyness has no quarter on Be Bold either in theme or medium.

Immediately reinforced by the EP’s opener, Arguments, which opens with the raw punchy power of Stooges-esque electric guitar, the stabbing chords reappearing throughout the track, mixed with jabbed keys, counterpoised with soft, dinner jazz piano, which adroitly highlight Bans’ two distinct vocal styles in the track, the two sides to an argument, the calm, moral high ground of one lighting the blue touch paper of the rasped other: “well I’m not tired, and I want to cry!”. Arguments (as is the EP as a whole), is a wonderful showcase for Bans’ bold and dramatic experimentation with fusing a variety of styles and syncopation in each of her songs. That these experiments prove so successful compound the fact that Be Bold is also a wonderful showcase for Bans’ supreme talent.

Rosie Bans photographed by Jamie Drew

Rosie Bans photographed by Jamie Drew

Arguments can end in repercussions and Arguments ends in a welter of feedback, but into that plays a beautiful melodious refrain. Hopefully a moment of calm after the storm, but also perhaps a whisper of Some Candy Talking of Bans’ Glaswegian musical forbears, The Jesus and Mary Chain. She was born in the city to a Scottish mother and Scottish/Indian father and was encouraged in music from an early age. She has, she says, been guided by “an army of strong female figures […] throughout her teenage and young adult life”, and specifically cites Stevie Nicks and Gloria Gaynor as having influenced her vocally, and Imogen Heap, Amanda Palmer, and Tori Amos as her song-writing influences.

Having cast off into that swirl of influences, it’s beyond temptation to say that the EP’s second track, Make Believe, has a wonderful feel of Carole King about it, and intertwined echoes of Billy Joel’s New York State of Mind and Alicia Keyes’ (/Jay Z’s) Empire State of Mind. But Make Believe is pure and simple – and clever and fabulous come to that – Rosie Bans! In that the phenomenally catchy, whistle all through the working day, tune both belies the lyrics and also characterises the façade they portray in relating a relationship that may look perfect on the surface, but is bereft below it: “So go on, paint me a picture, tell me a story, make believe, make believe, that there’s a you and me”. State of the union state of mind.

The phenomenally affecting third track, Bold Light, projects the childhood nursery rhyme fear of losing one’s way home into the terrifying reality of losing one’s sense of home, of having that sense beaten and broken out of one. Rhythmically, especially the chorus, the song has a feel of playground skipping chant, and there is a childlike facet musically, as though parts are played on a toy piano, which heighten the lyrical power – as does the soft vulnerability of Bans’ singing – which is far removed from the games of children. “I took as much as I could take,” sings Bans, and later, “you pushed too hard on my heart”. The ‘games’, such as they are lyrically expressed, are far more akin to Master and Servant, and fittingly in both the song’s rhythm and the other musical component of extraterrestrial chimes there are intriguing echoes of Depeche Mode.

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Those extraterrestrial chimes serve the song wonderfully well, aiding and abetting its effectiveness and affectivity, highlighting both the narrator’s feeling of being completely adrift from the world and also her celestial entreaty to be shown a direction home.

Home is also at the heart of the closing track on Be Bold, Westbound Ghosts. But where Bold Light is journeying in search of a home, Westbound Ghosts is the clearer emotional understanding of what home means to one that one often gains whilst travelling. Not least whilst travelling on trains (and not least whilst travelling on trains between London and Scotland, or vice versa), as one’s thoughts unfold across the passing landscapes and then flood back to one as inspiration, answers, new plans, or just a sense of calm or a refreshed sense of purpose. But being Bans there is a wonderful Noirish twist to this tale, in that the song’s narrator’s sense of home is only fixed as long as she is on the fixed railway lines of the East Coast… it might all change if she went back to the West Coast, or if she paid heed to the other female voice in the song – be that mother, sister, friend, or, indeed, another side of herself.

One thing about being bold is that once one begins one shouldn’t falter, and the wonderful thing about Be Bold is that it never falters – each of its four tracks is exceptional. I don’t know whether it takes boldness to download a free download of such excellent songs, but if it does then I urge you to be bold, because you will be well and truly bowled over by Be Bold.

ROSIE BANS LIVE DATES:

FAMOUS TIMES LIVE

ROSIE BANS, MIKE NISBET (click here to read P-TCP’s review of Mike Nisbet’s album, Vagrant), and GUY SANGSTER ADAMS will all be performing at Famous Times Live on 4th May 2014.
For more information: https://www.facebook.com/famoustimeslive?ref=br_tf

WORKING OUT OF TOWN TOUR

ROSIE BANS alongside MIKE NISBET and ANNA MacDONALD will be playing live across the UK during May and June 2014 on their Working out of Town tour.
For more information: http://www.rosiebans.com/

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Book Review: Life with a Porn Queen – Maurice Suckling

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(Ink Monkey Books) eBook £2.99

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

In mid-air over the Atlantic Ocean, en route to New York from London, 28 year old Zach Periton meets Mopsa Welch who might be the titular porn queen, a prophet, a physicist, a professor of English Literature, or a combination of all four. Equally given the severity of her painted nails, the tight scantiness of her clothing, the largeness of her fake breasts, alongside her geekyness (their initial conversation involves matching each other in roller-coaster G-force facts), and privately educated English accent, she might purely be a fantasy that in-flight dehydration has lead Zach’s mind to conjure. Or, since Zach is, or was until he walked out of his job, a computer games designer, she could also be his avatar.

Whichever or whatever she might be she has a name that sounds as though it must be an anagram until one puts it into an online anagram solver and is repaid with hundreds more phrases which are both instantly nonsensical but which one could immediately make some sort of case for them being completely relevant to Maurice Suckling’s début novel, such are its twists and turns, possible clues and potential red herrings.

Feeling that his life has become too predictable, Zach has walked out of his job, given away his possessions, and boarded the flight to the USA with the intention that when he arrives he will embark on a coast-to-coast road trip, before settling in California where he will surf, work in a bar, “living one day and one wave at a time”, and end up living with a porn queen. But Mopsa points out to him that that narrative would be clichéd, that it’s a story already written countless times, and that it would be just as predictable as what he’s leaving behind. She tells him that he’s suffering from “Story Over-Exposure”, from only living stories that he already knows the endings too, and then wondering why he feels unfulfilled.

As a cure she tells him a story, but leaves it to him to decide whether it’s a course of action he should follow: “So this man gets on a plane to another new country, he lands, and he feels just the same as always. It’s different, but any arrivals lounge is much like any other. This place doesn’t surprise him either. So, he walks through arrivals and he sees people holding up boards with names. Then he chooses a name at random, and goes up to the person holding the board – and he says, that’s me”.

Suckling is both a writer of fiction – he holds a PhD in Creative Writing from University of Newcastle, and his very well received short story anthology, Photocopies of Heaven, was long-listed for a British Fantasy Society award – and also of computer games, including the critically acclaimed, XCOM: Enemy Unknown. He also co-authored the book, Video Game Writing: From Macro to Micro. For me both sides of his work and studies intertwine in the multi-layered Life with a Porn Queen.

Maurice Suckling

Maurice Suckling

Zach and Mopsa discuss narrative predictability and unpredictability within a narrative frame that is equally unpredictable. Although Zach does follow through with Mopsa’s advice to choose a random name in the arrivals lounge, it’s a narrative thread that is discontinued after only a few pages, although long enough for one to both want to know more and to feel at first a little cheated/disconcerted that one isn’t going to.

But then there’s not much time to get stuck on that before Zach has re-met Mopsa in a bar and agreed to go and stay with her in her house in California, the outcome of which will at least finally begin to make sense of the confusing and bizarre parables that intersperse the text (The Parable of The Three Live Web-Cam Sex Workers, The Parable of The Man Who Was a Watermelon)… or does it… as Mopsa seems to be the leader of a religious cult, but there again that could just be one’s own projection.

And besides by this stage one has so fully entered into the themes/intent of the novel that one is already thinking, well if Suckling isn’t going to elucidate on what might happen when one says, that’s me, to a name-sign carrying person in an arrivals lounge, I am just going to have to go and try it for real, myself!

Reading Life with a Porn Queen, very much as Zach does in and around Mopsa’s house when he’s there alone, one does find oneself looking for clues, wondering whether there are fragments that one should put to one side that will help one later in the book – very much as one might with a computer game. Equally there is a sense, particular with the unexplored arrivals’ lounge narrative, that perhaps that narrative is there, if only one could find the right ‘key’ to enter that level of the ‘game’ – one finds oneself scrolling back through the book to see if one missed a way in.

After all of which, as one would fully imagine that it would, Life with a Porn Queen ends not only with a twist to the narrative but also to the narration, meaning that it remains a roller coaster read from beginning to end: innovative and unpredictable, engaging and insightful, fun and disconcerting.

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Maurice Suckling will be reading from and talking about Life with a Porn Queen (Ink Monkey Books, 2013), at Plectrum-The Cultural Pick’s (P-TCP) Mustered No.9: Shake, Rattle, and Roll Dem Bones, on Wednesday 30th October 2013 at The Betsey Trotwood, London EC1.

For more details please click here: http://www.theculturalpick.com/category/events/

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Links
Maurice Suckling
http://mauricesuckling.com/

Ink Monkey Books
http://www.inkmonkeybooks.com/

Book Review: Mickey the Mimic – Kirk Lake

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(Ink Monkey Books) eBook £2.99

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

I finished reading Mickey the Mimic just before going to sleep. When I awoke I hadn’t quite realised the extent to which the story had stayed with me until a few hours later when I had to telephone the author, Kirk Lake. The call went to answerphone and suddenly my head filled with scenarios from the book, and since as the jacket copy says it’s, “a neo-noir narrative of black comedy and casual violence”, my imagination did rather run away with me, or from me, screaming. Before I realised that I was conflating Lake with his protagonist, Mickey Dallow, and that another cup of coffee might be needed to sort out the fact from the fiction. In fact, my parallel universe moment is entirely appropriate both to the themes of the book and Lake’s adept telling of the story.

Duality, duplicity, what is real and what is fake, who is reliable and who is unreliable, including the narrator, and whether knowing for sure would be a help or a hindrance are central to Mickey the Mimic.

Set in London in the 1990s amidst the rise of Cool Britannia, Britart and Britpop, Lake has intermingled artists, pop stars, models, artworks and events, both real and imaginary into Mickey’s world. Mickey is both a prodigiously talented artist, but equally unable to express his own original creativity on paper or canvas. His nickname, Mickey the Mimic, dates from childhood, at first applying to his talent for impressions and then from art school onwards to his innate ability to perfectly replicate the works of other artists. Which sounds very happy-go-lucky, and seemingly is, until he meets Audrey:

“I was certain that Audrey was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen. She looked like Tippi Hedren in The Birds painted by Gil Evgren […] only this Tippi had brown hair and was wearing jeans and a Cure t-shirt. I wasn’t sure about the t-shirt but everything else worked for me.”

As a reader, in the knowledge of how the novel mixes life and art, one wants to shake Mickey and say, the Cure t-shirt is the least of your worries. Falling for a woman who looks like an actress who on-screen was one of Hitchcock’s ice blondes (manipulative, passionate, sometimes criminal women who make the leading men fall madly in love with them, whilst also bringing danger and complication to their lives) and who said that her off-screen relationship with the director, who was 30 plus years her senior, was characterised by him being “too possessive and too demanding, I can’t be possessed by anyone”, brings foreboding aplenty.

But sadly Mickey can’t hear the readers. Throughout the year of their MA course they live in each other’s pockets and are inseparable. But Audrey’s increasingly vociferous and insistent urgings that Mickey take off the mask of mimicry and reveal and produce his own creative work, the destabilising effect this has on him, and his increasingly obsessive feelings for her, build up to the collapse of their relationship. Although the final blow is delivered fittingly at the MA final show when Mickey unveils his artwork directly opposite Audrey’s and it is a double of her work, a perfect reproduction.

Kirk Lake

Kirk Lake

A particular instance of how successful and fun Lake’s mixing of real people and imaginary characters in the art and music scenes around Mickey and Audrey (in addition to how it evocatively explores the nature of the art scene at the time) comes in the form of Mickey’s post-MA job working for the artist, Matt Caine. He is Damien Hirst’s great rival, covering everything in his trademark stripes, in riposte to Hirst’s spots, pre-selling, for vast amounts, the ideas for artworks sketched on napkins or cigarette packets, and then having his assistants, Mickey and Stephanie, do the actual creating and painting of the work. When Caine decides that his pinstripe period is over, the two create one last huge canvas for him: “when we’d finished it,” Mickey recounts, “we both decided it was the best work Caine had ever painted”.

The idea of Caine works so well, much as I alluded to in the first paragraph, that I fell into the enjoyable and also slightly disconcerting duality of knowing that Hirst didn’t have a replica rival called Matt Caine, but liking the idea that there was someone matching him spot for spot, stripe by stripe, so much so that I started to seriously doubt whom I knew to be real or fake… Google beckoned. Although by then I fully expected Damien Hirst to be the make-believe character…

When Audrey the ice brunette re-enters Mickey’s life it is with her French gangster lover, Lionel, in tow: a man 30 plus years her senior who is particularly possessive and demanding of her – foreboding  come to fruition. They set about manipulating Mickey, who is still very much in love with Audrey, into their plan to fake a Picasso. But first as an initiation, ostensibly they say for them to decide whether he is the right man for the job or not, they commission him to paint a version of Gustave Courbet’s painting, L’Origine du monde, with Audrey as the model. The painting is a close-up view of the genitals and abdomen of a naked woman, lying on a bed with her legs spread.

As Lake says in the Q&A included at the end of the book, “for the female model to pose for such an explicit portrait, at the request of one man in order to manipulate another man, requires a degree of complicity in the manipulation on her part. Otherwise it’s just misogynistic fantasy. I was more interested in the noir character of the femme fatale. Audrey is ultimately the most devious character but also probably the most intelligent. Not that it helps her that much.”

Indeed, ultimately the painting doesn’t help any of the trio ‘very much’, as from the moment Mickey starts the first sketches they are all caught in a highly destructive trajectory, that culminates in the book’s surprising, but certainly, and wonderfully, Hitchcockian twist at the end.

To still be engaged with a book the day after reading it, as per the beginning of this review, says so much about the quality of Lake’s writing, in addition to his seamless ability to both draw one far further into the plot and characters than one realised, and also to create such an engaging and enjoyable hyperreality. Mickey the Mimic is also a book that once I’d read it (and worked out what my real life was again), I thought, I’d really like to read it again. Which in many ways is the best review one can give a book.

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KIRK LAKE will be talking about and reading from Mickey the Mimic (Ink Monkey Books, 2013) at Plectrum-The Cultural Pick’s (P-TCP) Mustered No.8: From Marble Arch to the Arc de Triomphe on Thursday 26th September 2013 at The Betsey Trotwood, London EC1.

For more details please click here: http://www.theculturalpick.com/category/events/

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Kirk Lake:
http://www.kirklake.net/

Ink Monkey Books
http://www.inkmonkeybooks.com/

Music Review: Vagrant – Mike Nisbet

mike-nisbet-vagrant-album-cover-for-p-tcp-review

Album on release

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

A few tracks in I suddenly realised I had been holding my breath on my first listen to Mike Nisbet’s debut album, Vagrant. Holding my breath, hoping against hope, that as each song played and I liked it as much and more than the previous one that every song on the album would be a winner. And that is how it was, and how it is. But also, having allowed myself to breathe somewhere around track three, at the end of that first listen I found that the album as a whole has a wonderfully transcendent quality. Listening to Vagrant in its entirety I felt as though I had travelled widely with the songs, seen people and places that had changed my mind and my mood, but returned to where I was sitting feeling far calmer, more relaxed, and hopeful.

Travelling allied to a sense of rootlessness, as the title suggests, is central to Vagrant as Nisbet wrote the album’s ten tracks having spent a peripatetic year living between London and Glasgow. Vagrant was then recorded in Glasgow’s Diving Bell Lounge by Marcus Mackay (whose credits also include Snow Patrol, Frightened Rabbit, Sparrow & the Workshop). The songs draw influence not only from his experiences and emotions on the road between the two cities, but also from the traditional folk music of both Scotland and England, and further afield from Americana. His intention for the sound and feel of the album was that it should be intimate, “one man playing directly to the listener” utilizing primarily simple acoustic guitar and percussion.

Intriguingly given the above the word that continually comes to mind when listening to Vagrant is, majestic. In no small part this is due to the fantastic sonority of Nisbet’s voice. It is imbued with his Caledonian heritage – he was born in the town of Oban to the north west of Glasgow – fused with both the steel of Clydebuilt and the drama and rich hues of the Highlands. Whilst also being etched with the hardness of the road, but suffused with the wisdom that hope is still alive around every corner. It’s a voice of history that belies the fact that Nisbet is in his twenties. It’s a voice that one wants to travel with.

Mike Nisbet

Mike Nisbet

This majesty is very much to the fore on my favourite song on Vagrant (favourite amongst favourites), Snow Me In. This epic song, which even though knowing it to be a new song one feels sure must be a standard as soon as one hears it, is the only track on the album to feature Nisbet on piano rather than guitar. A beautiful maelstrom it evokes and holds its own vocally, musically and atmospherically with Elvis’ In the Ghetto, and Nick Cave’s Into My Arms and He Wants You.

Other echoes that come to mind whilst listening to Vagrant are Nick Drake, particularly the album, Five Leaves Left, John Martyn’s album, Solid Air, and Tim Hardin. Other reviewers have made references to Bob Dylan. For me, listening to Vagrant, interestingly if I was put in mind of Dylan at all it was of Time Out Of Mind. Interestingly because that was Dylan’s 30th studio album and he was 56 when he recorded it. Over twice the age Nisbet was when he recorded Vagrant, which perhaps compounds Nisbet’s seemingly inherent time out of mind-ness that runs counter to his age. As a sidebar there is another link as Time Out Of Mind featured Dylan’s 16-minute paean to Scotland, Highlands.

But really the beauty of Vagrant is that it stands alone and is a very good album in its own right. It is passionate, poetical, and compelling, with a travelling, or sometimes, tidal rhythm that propels one from track to track. Rather like the train window reverie that happens on a long journey that takes one at speed both through industrial cities and the most beautiful rural landscapes influencing the thoughts that occur and alight, Vagrant is a glorious soundtrack of both memory and dreams, of loves lost and loves still to come, of melancholy but also of hope. A hope, that is like the never quite darkening glow in the sky to the north of Glasgow’s streets. It is the possibility of the journey, that one doesn’t arrive exactly the same as one sets out. Even if far from home, or looking for a place to call home, after listening to Vagrant one is ready to face the road again, or if listening en route to keep going forward.

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MIKE NISBET will be playing live, including songs from Vagrant, at Plectrum-The Cultural Pick’s (P-TCP) Mustered No.8: From Marble Arch to the Arc de Triomphe on Thursday 26th September 2013 at The Betsey Trotwood, London EC1.

For more details please click here: http://www.theculturalpick.com/category/events/

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Links
Mike Nisbet:
http://mikenisbet.com/

Mike Nisbet is playing live dates across the UK during October 2013. Please check his website for details

Buy Vagrant from:
http://mikenisbet.bandcamp.com/

Book Review: They Eat Horses, Don’t They? The Truth about the French by Piu Marie Eatwell

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(Head of Zeus) HB £15.99 eBook £7.99

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

I was very struck by the opening lines of Piu Marie Eatwell’s prologue in which she writes of what had been intended as a weekend break in Paris but which has now extended for over ten years living in France, meeting and marrying her husband, working, and raising her three children there. She writes, “It was on a sunny August bank holiday that I checked into a hotel in the Latin Quarter […] I never did get to stay in that hotel (spending that whole first weekend with my future husband).”

Inherent in those lines, for me, was what I have always found about Paris that it is both everything I expect it to be and nothing that I expect it to be (as I imagine French visitors to/residents of London equally find). Eatwell doesn’t elucidate further about that weekend, but reading it one does imagine that in the lead up to going away the Left Bank hotel was a central tenet in the dream of an idealised, romantic, cinematically perfect Parisian weekend… but in reality it became purely a left luggage locker, as she met the man she would later marry elsewhere in the city. Although, of course, meeting your future husband on a weekend break in Paris does rather compound the perception of Paris as the most romantic city on earth.

As a student at Université Paris IV, despite it being the 2000s not the 1940s/50s, my friends at home in Britain envisaged that my time would be spent clad in a black roll neck striking existential poses in Left Bank cafés that had long been artistic and intellectual hang-outs. Whilst it’s true that pre- and post- lectures I would go for coffee a lot with French student friends in Saint-Germain-des-Prés the favoured rendezvous was Starbucks in Odéon… which isn’t to say the conversations weren’t as erudite or that there wasn’t just as much people watching.

As Eatwell writes, “one can still check out Les Deux Magots or Café de Flore, if forking out a fortune for a continental breakfast is not an issue. But don’t expect to find a philosopher sitting next to you if you do.” This is in the section of the book in which she explores the reality of Myths about Paris, in this case that, ‘The Left Bank is a haven of writers and intellectuals’. The book as whole explores 45 preconceptions about France that are widely held in Britain and also to a degree in the USA.

Ranging from the titular and of the moment ‘They eat horses, don’t they?’ to myths about French women: being the most stylish in the world/not getting fat/not shaving, from ‘The French are obsessed with sex’ and that their children don’t throw food, through to ‘The French are a nation of cheese-eating surrender mokeys’, ‘Paris is the European capital of canine excreta’, and ‘The Paris Métro stinks’.

In each case Eatwell, who trained as a barrister and worked in chambers in London, before working for international law firms in London and Paris, explores the background and evidence for each cultural claim and then gives a verdict on each as to whether they are straightforwardly true or false, or somewhere contradictorily between the two, or equally whether they were once true but no longer are. Her ruling on the veracity is then carried at the end of each entry in a caption next to a Myth Evaluation logo. This is a fun device and often brings extra illumination.

Piu Marie Eatwell

Piu Marie Eatwell

I particularly liked her Myth Evaluation to ‘The Paris Métro stinks: “True: The Parisian Métro still smells most peculiar, although garlic and Gitanes have now been replaced by unusual chemical odours. However, for complex socio-cultural reasons comprehensible only to Left Bank intellectuals and Deconstructionist philosophers, the unique and irrepressible odour of the Paris Métro is not noxious, but apparently – in anthropological terms – a nexus of urban experiences encompassing alienation, excitement, repulsion, danger”.

The book is as thoroughly engaging as it is wonderfully well researched. Eatwell has drawn on a wealth of sources including books, periodicals, company and governmental surveys, statistics, reports, films and music, interviewing/statement taking from almost everyone she spoke to, be they English or French, and also her own observations and experience garnered from living in France for over a decade. Writing with wit, erudition, insight, and a lightness of touch (I am trying to ignore the part of my brain that is insisting on making a soufflé allusion here) They Eat Horses, Don’t They? is highly readable and personable whilst also being a fascinating, immaculately considered and referenced discourse on its theme.

In considering her findings at the end of the book, Eatwell who was born in Calcutta but raised in Britain, and studied at Oxford University, explains that although writing the book taught her a great deal more about France and the French it also “taught me even more about myself – or rather, I should say, about us, the Anglo-Saxons” and also that the relationship between Britain and France has always been very different to Britain’s relationship with any other country. “Underlying all these myths we construct about France,” she writes, “there lies a romantic and indefinable yearning… a sense of emulation, jealousy and desire”.

Her idea chimes with a very similar thought that had struck me when I was again studying outside Britain, this time in Finland (underscoring the Herderian idea of gaining insights into one’s nationality when abroad) – although I would suggest that the feelings she describes go both ways across the Channel.

One morning in the student accommodation kitchen I glanced across at the television – the sound was muted but the news was showing then French President, Jacques Chirac, and British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, arriving at the unveiling of the Airbus A380, in France. Both leaders made their way along the front row of seats from opposite ends, warmly greeting everyone they passed along the way but studiously not making eye contact with each other. When they arrived at their seats, next to each other in the centre, they made a great play of not greeting each other, other than a fleeting ‘covert’ glance, and then sat down taking great pains to do so at oblique angles to each other. This was representative of diplomatic bad feeling at the time, but what hit me watching the images without commentary was how extraordinarily coquettish it looked.

As though Britain and France are the archetypal boy and girl in the playground hitting each other, when in fact they want to kiss each other, making up and spreading bad stories about each other in the fear that someone might realise their true feelings.

Reading They Eat Horses, Don’t They? provides a fascinating insight into this love/hate affair that has played out across the Channel and across the centuries, and I heartily recommend the book.

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PIU MARIE EATWELL will be talking about They Eat Horses, Don’t They? The Truth about the French (Head of Zeus, 2013), and exploring some of the myths and stereotypes that colour Britain’s relationship with France, at the Plectrum-The Cultural Pick’s (P-TCP) Mustered No.8: From Marble Arch to the Arc de Triomphe on Thursday 26th September 2013 at The Betsey Trotwood, London EC1.

For more details please click here: http://www.theculturalpick.com/category/events/

Tweet this review and follow Guy Sangster Adams and Plectrum-The Cultural Pick on Twitter:





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Piu Marie Eatwell
Twitter: @PiuEatwell https://twitter.com/PiuEatwell
Facebook: https://en-gb.facebook.com/pages/They-Eat-Horses-Dont-They-The-Truth-about-the-French/333787346720994

Head of Zeus
http://headofzeus.com/

Book Review: Diamond Street – The Hidden World of Hatton Garden by Rachel Lichtenstein

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(Hamish Hamilton) Hardback £20.00, Paperback £9.99, ebook £5.99
Diamond Street App free to download from iTunes or Google Play

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

One does not need a jeweller’s loupe to appreciate the multi-faceted beauty of Rachel Lichtenstein’s Diamond Street: The Hidden World of Hatton Garden. That said, because it flows with the highly engaging pace of a novel, and often the excitement of a thriller, despite being non-fiction, and one becomes so gripped by Lichtenstein’s journey that one starts to read and reaches the end before one wishes, it is a book that one immediately wants to go back through, to hold up to the light to examine in close detail the interplay of a wonderful spectrum of people and places and the stories they convey.

The book was more than five years in the making, in terms of both Lichtenstein’s research and writing, but in familial terms it has been three generations in the making because as a student she worked in her parent’s jewellery shop in Hatton Garden, which her husband now runs, and her uncles and aunts, and her grandfather all worked in the London street that is internationally renowned as the capital’s jewellery and diamond quarter and for many years was the centre of the world’s jewellery market.

Equally the stories and histories that Lichtenstein relays and uncovers have been many centuries in the making, for Diamond Street is not only a rare view through the closed doors of the inherently secretive and mysterious world of the diamond dealers, goldsmiths and jewellers on the street, but also a fascinating exploration through multiple layers of London history both in the street and its surrounding area from the life-size solid-gold sculpture of Kate Moss, to the lawlessness and the squalor of the alleyways and rookeries that inspired Dickens’ Oliver Twist, to the upmarket and highly desirable Georgian housing estate, from the mansion of Elizabeth I’s favourite, Sir Christopher Hatton, the palace of the Bishops of Ely, and further back to the days when the nearby River Fleet, which is now contained within Bazalgette’s Victorian sewer, was a mighty London waterway, second only to the Thames.

Diamond Street begins with a quote from Virginia Woof’s essay, A Room of One’s Own. The essay has long been a favourite of mine, and I have always liked the passage within it in which Woolf leans against the walls of Newnham College, Cambridge, and the physical connection triggers a journey back through centuries of the town’s history in her imagination. The passage and the essay as a whole are vividly and accessibly told – as a reader one very much travels with her.

Likewise and more so in Diamond Street; Lichtenstein makes time travel easy and delightful, which is far from easy to do. She trained originally as a sculptor and through the course of Diamond Street she very cleverly gradually builds up the layers of history so that as one reads on the text, the history, and the people become a wonderfully tactile sculptural object in one’s imagination. Often, and highly successfully, this is achieved through her accounts of the separate walks she took around the area, along similar routes but each time with experts in different fields, from historians, to geologists, to visionaries, and ultimately with sewer flushers… as the book concludes with Lichtenstein underground, thigh deep in the sewage of the River Fleet.

Rachel Lichtenstein photographed by James Price

Rachel Lichtenstein photographed by James Price

The accessibility, readability, and enjoyableness of Diamond Street also stems from Lichtenstein weaving the story of her research methodology into the text. This brings the history alive, and also makes the reader feel a far greater connection to the people she meets and interviews, as though one is meeting them oneself.

So much so that one gets very caught up in her search for Isadore Mitziman (‘Mitzy’) an infamous Hatton Garden character, who Lichtenstein had bumped into by chance in 2004 whilst she was working on her last book, On Brick Lane, the first of her trilogy of London street books of which Diamond Street is the second. That day he told her many stories about Hatton Garden, and when she began working on Diamond Street she was desperate to track him down. As reader one becomes hooked on her search for him, almost thinking that one can see him at the end of the street, just out of Lichtenstein’s view, and one wants to enter the text and tell her!

Diamond Street in its printed form affords, as I say, the most wonderful mind’s eye travelling both in the present day and through time. But now, Lichtenstein has brought a whole new wonderful level to her Diamond Street project with the creation of the Diamond Street App, which is the first of its kind and uses content from the book in addition to specially developed rich media, soundscapes and interactive features. The App adds two new additions to journey one can take with Lichtenstein to Diamond Street, from the mind’s eye of the book, to either the visual, aural, and virtual, armchair travelling of the App, or if one is in Hatton Garden in actuality, a real guided tour via the App and its GPS system.

Whichever form you choose, and I would strongly recommend all three, Lichtenstein and Diamond Street are the perfect travelling companions.

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RACHEL LICHTENSTEIN will be celebrating the launch of The Diamond Street App and the publication of the paperback edition of Diamond Street: The Hidden World of Hatton Garden (Hamish Hamilton, 2013) at the P-TCP Live Edition Mustered No.7: ‘Hubcap Diamond Star Halo’ on Thursday 27th June 2013 at The Betsey Trotwood, London EC1.
For more details please click here: http://www.theculturalpick.com/category/events/

Tweet this review and follow Plectrum-The Cultural Pick on Twitter and Facebook




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Links
Rachel Lichtenstein: http://www.rachellichtenstein.com/
Diamond Street App: http://www.diamondstreetapp.com
Hamish Hamilton: http://fivedials.com/

Book Review: Jar Baby – Hayley Webster

jar-baby-by-hayley-webster-cover-webzine

(Dexter Haven Publishing) paperback £7.99

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

For the majority of those attending the posthumous retrospective exhibition of the work of celebrated fashion designer, Sir Rohan Rickwood, the exhortation of the last line of the museum’s press release to, “‘Drown in glamour and worship the sea'”, would sound like the most perfect mode de vie. To them, the childhood and teenage years of Diana Rickwood, through whose eyes Hayley Webster’s compelling début novel is told, would sound like a fairy tale existence. Because she spent them living with her Uncle Rohan in his beautiful beachside house and studio, to which celebrated models and famous faces would flock for fittings.

But the once-upon-a-times of Diana’s formative years were not a fast track to happily-ever-afters, for although Webster powerfully incorporates allusions to fairy tales in her narrative it is not to their post-Disneyfication versions, but to their far darker tellings from previous centuries by writers such as Charles Perrault in the 17th century and the Brothers Grimm in the 19th century in which violence, sexual threat, and abuse are common themes. There are also echoes to another 19th century writer, Heinrich Hoffmann, and his macabre and grotesque collection of cautionary tales for children, Der Struwwelpeter (Shockheaded Peter).

Far from drowning in glamour, Diana grows up drowning in a well of loneliness. Orphaned, her Uncle tells her, when her parents were drowned in a boating accident, when growing up her “entire life was made up of the interpretations of a lonely girl looking for meaning”. Exiled from the studio whenever anyone arrives for a fitting, and not allowed to meet the models, the only vestiges of a glamorous life her uncle allows her are the pins he asks her to pick up and untangle from the carpet post-fittings.

Far from basking in the reflected light of her Uncle’s glittering career, they share a bed because they are both afraid of the dark. But even in the daylight Diana’s life is permeated by darkness: from the sexual and mental abuse she suffers from the chauffeur of her uncle’s model muse, Stella Avery, to the titular half-formed human baby in a jar of formaldehyde who watches her from a shelf in Rohan’s studio, from the dog she kills on the beach, despite the fact he seems to represent “a sign of hope”, to her subsequent complete withdrawal for six weeks/mental breakdown, from her self-harming and self-abuse, to the animal’s shocking reappearance later in the novel.

Hayley Webster

Hayley Webster

At the age of 19, on the night of her uncle’s engagement to Stella Avery, having projected all the blame for her life’s troubles onto her in loco (evil) stepmother-to-be Diana leaves her uncle’s home, moving to London, to never see him again and spends the next 10 years until his death both cutting herself off from and suppressing every facet and memory of her past.

With the tide of media attention following his death, in addition to the retrospective exhibition, a biopic in development, and a biography being written, Diana is forced to rewrite the person she has spent the last 10 years becoming, for she is “no longer Dee Rickwood, food writer for Fair’s Fare supermarkets, but Diana Rickwood, niece of the glamorously dead and fêted designer Rohan Rickwood”.

Implicit in which, in her desire that the truth of both her uncle’s life and her own, as she knows it, doesn’t become submerged in a revisionist retelling, she has to re-examine her past and revisit the memories she has suppressed for so long. Which initially gives rise to ever wilder imaginings about those with whom she is reconnecting, particularly Stella Avery, but increasingly she discovers that the reality of who she is and of her past goes far beyond her wildest imaginings, is far more troubling than her darkest fears, and has been as carefully constructed by her uncle and his circle as the beautiful cape he sends her seemingly from beyond the grave.

With Jar Baby Hayley Webster makes a striking and particularly powerful début. Diana’s search for the truth, her attempts to cut through the mesh of concealments and to rethink the red herrings that she has created for herself generate the gripping excitement of a thriller, whilst the disturbing and chilling aspects of the story, both for Diana and for the reader, bring elements of Gothic fiction to the dramatic mix. Her weaving of fairy tales into the story is done so in a wonderfully evocative and playful way. I particularly liked that when Diana/Cinderella finally goes to the ball it is in a very surreal way as it is in a room in West London around which a myriad of ‘Rohans’ and ‘Stellas’ are waltzing, in rehearsal for a scene for the planned film about Rohan’s life.

Throughout the novel, Webster handles light and dark wonderfully well, in a way that heightens the power of both, for Jar Baby is both humorous and troubling, playful and deathly serious. Her exploration and depictions of the story’s unsettling and poignant themes of abuse, sexual, physical, and mental, and of interpersonal and sexual taboos, are singularly adept and insightful. Jar Baby is a book which I urge you to read.

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Hayley Webster will be reading from and talking about Jar Baby (Dexter Haven, 2012) at the P-TCP Live Edition Mustered No.7: ‘Hubcap Diamond Star Halo’ on Thursday 27th June 2013 at The Betsey Trotwood, London EC1.
For more details please click here: http://www.theculturalpick.com/category/events/

Tweet this review and follow Guy Sangster Adams and Plectrum-The Cultural Pick on Twitter:





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Dexter Haven Publishing is an imprint of Black Spring Press: http://www.blackspringpress.co.uk/

Music Review: In a Primitive State of Neurotic Irresponsibility – Scant Regard

scant-regard-iapsoni-cover-p-tcp-webzine

Album on release

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

From a 1950s teenage Americana of high school hell cats, jet propelled hot rods, a rumble on the docks and riding the wild surf, to the men with no name in the Wild West of the late 1800s re-envisaged through filmic Italian eyes in the 1960s. From the impeccably elegant and achingly sexy Spy-fi representation of 1960s London, to a Brutalist trip to Newcastle with Michael Caine in the early 1970s, and onwards to the late 1970s/early 1980s and an electronica rendezvous in the industrial German city of Düsseldorf, before a train ride back across Europe to an England popping with a newly synthesised sound. With Scant Regard’s second album, In a Primitive State of Neurotic Irresponsibility, with a slide along the fretboard of his Teisco guitar, one embarks on an highly evocative, time-travelling journey through a collage of genres, an inspiring and exhilarating fusion that melds flash-backs with the present moment, to create a perfect resonance for today.

Scant Regard is the alias and solo project of Will Crewdson, the London-based guitarist, writer, and producer, and the success of the hybrid Scant Regard sound, which he terms Spaghettilectro, is a testament to his explicit talents in all three of those creative disciplines. His stated intent for Spaghettilectro is that it “strives to fuse raw electronic beats and moods with the smooth, soaring sounds of [Ennio] Morricone’s biting guitar-scapes” which is then mixed up with “a little Link Wray style rock ‘n’ roll swagger”.

This is certainly carried into In a Primitive State of Neurotic Irresponsibility’s opening track, and as such, perhaps, its statement of intent come cri de guerre, I Make no Bones. Which starts with an impelling rhythm of crackling, running boots feedback, dissolved by a swirling Link Wray riff, this is a street fighting track, punchy beats, fingernail string slides that sound like knives being sharpened, and power chord stabs. It brilliantly reinvents and transports the spirit of Wray’s highly influential 1958 track, Rumble (on which he first showcased his distortion and feedback techniques and which is cited as being the first track to use the power chord), to the metropolitan streets of the 2010s.

Scant Regard photographed by Helene Monitcone

Scant Regard photographed by Helene Monitcone

This is followed by Scant Regard’s fantastic, epic, VistaVision, cover version of Kraftwerk’s 1978/1981 single, The Model, which also, in its smoky down strokes and impelling locomotive rhythms, has echoes of Kraftwerk’s earlier single, Trans Europe Express. Coupled to which, Scant Regard has met Iggy Pop and David Bowie in the dining-car and returns a little Lust for Life and glances from Station to Station with flair and affection.

Intriguingly his cover is far less voyeuristic than the Kraftwerk original. The subject has turned the tables, and is far more of a femme fatale; from the glowering, pouting, intro, through the Spaghettilectro riffs, this is a soundtrack chosen by the model herself; rather than, “she’s a model and she’s looking good”, if Scant Regard’s instrumental had lyrics they would be, “I’m a model and I’m looking good”. Adding further layers to the story, there are also in the plaintive glissandi and the tremolo sustains echoes of Roy Budd’s theme tune to the 1971 British gangster film, Get Carter, directed by Mike Hodges and starring Michael Caine. This model has a backstory that for your own safety it may be a good idea not to delve to deeply into.

With the second cover version on the album, The Normal’s Warm Leatherette, Scant Regard also pulls off the very difficult feat of bringing brilliant new layers to a track that not only already had a great original but also a very successful cover version by Grace Jones. His wonderful reimagining of the song brings it very much into the modern moment, with the lyrics, which were based on JG Ballard’s controversial novel, Crash, about symphorophilia / car-crash sexual fetishism, seemingly intoned by an increasingly demented and aroused sat nav, as the track builds faster and faster through spiralling guitar and mesmerising beats, before ending abruptly in oblivion.

Scant Regard photographed by Dylan Schwarz

Scant Regard photographed by Dylan Schwarz

Alongside these tracks, for me the other particularly stand out song on the album is the wonderful Misguided Missile, which whatever the intended target of its title very much hits the mark. It’s as though Sigue Sigue Sputnik’s Love Missile F1-11 has collided with The Tornado’s Telestar knocking it into an alternative orbit, or perhaps sending it on a slow fall to earth with a message of satellite love from the stars. The track tilts its hat to Joe Meek, and also carries the continuing echoes of Roy Budd’s Get Carter theme, and adds some Spy-fi elegance and thrills with a hint of Laurie Johnson’s theme to The Avengers television series. Throughout Misguided Missile Scant Regard skilfully manipulates a palette of emotions and tells a compelling short story in a variety of riffs, beats, and atmospherics.

This is true of the album as a whole. Although predominantly instrumentals, such is the richness of Scant Regard’s musical storytelling, and so myriad are the images and emotions that fill one’s head and one’s heart whilst listening to the album, that it’s a shock to realise that these fantastic short stories have been told without words. Upon listening to it you may well find that it already is, but I urge you to make In a Primitive State of Neurotic Irresponsibility the soundtrack to your life.


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SCANT REGARD aka WILL CREWDSON will be playing a special set of Spaghettilectro, including songs from his new album, In a Primitive State of Neurotic Irresponsibility, at the P-TCP Live Edition Mustered No.7: ‘Hubcap Diamond Star Halo’ on Thursday 27th June 2013 at The Betsey Trotwood, London EC1.
For more details please click here: http://www.theculturalpick.com/category/events/

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Scant Regard: http://www.scantregard.com

Music review: Not a dry eye in London – Alexander’s Festival Hall

not-a-dry-eye-in-london-alexanders-festival-hall-cover-website
(Melodical Trax) Album on release


Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

One moment a green olive being seductively swirled around a perfectly mixed Martini, the next a revolving mirror ball lighting up the eyes of George Gershwin and Noël Coward in a louche 1920s nightclub, before spinning faster and faster through the decades to the bright lights of a late-1970s discothèque, the packed dance floor pulsating to Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder’s I Feel Love. Not a dry eye in London, the debut album by Alexander’s Festival Hall, carries one into an entrancing and enchanting swirl around shifting orbits that then, almost implausibly but always immaculately, coalesce.

That this is so successful pays tribute to the many talents of Alexander Mayor, whose brainchild AFH is, as a singer, songwriter, arranger, and producer. Mayor first came to prominence in the late 90s/early 00s as a member of electronic/synth pop trio, Baxendale, who were signed to the Cologne-based electronic and techno label, Kompakt. The German city continues to inspire Mayor’s work as the sound of Cologne’s nightclubs is another of Not a dry eye in London’s layers of influence.

The London life that the twelve tracks on the album celebrates is one that begins afresh each night as the theatre curtain rises full of hope for all that might unfold in the hours ahead, both onstage and backstage, across subterranean dance floors or atop moonlit rooftops, with chance meetings, surprising discoveries, and the possibilities that remain for as long as the clubs and bars are open and the music is still playing… but as dawn breaks, as Mayor sings on I don’t want to get crazy every night, which tells of being left heartbroken and alone when the house lights go on, ‘with morning dew they’re serving the sweetest tears of the town’.

alexanders-festival-hall-website

Mayor has such a poetic lyrical talent that without music all the songs on the album would make wonderful poems, but that would only give half the story, because many of the tracks are lyrically poignant, but are juxtaposed with music to dance to, or the catchiest uplifting melody, which creates a fascinating and very pleasing bitter-sweetness – an heartache one can dance to! Equally the songs are shot through with brilliantly observed wit and humour, not least in the fantastic first single from the album, the alternative paen to love, Upturned, and, I’m gonna get married, which features Piney Gir whose third album, The Yearling, Mayor produced.

I’m gonna get married is an electro-cowboy ballad, a conjunction that is highly evocative in its own right, but in the often wonderfully fantastical setting of Mayor’s dusk till dawn London, for me, with its very English clipped vocals counterpointed by Western rhythms, the song’s juxtapositions conjure up an image of a fully booted, fringed, and Stetson’d cowboy on horseback suddenly emerging out of the sunlight at daybreak on Rotten Row, in London’s Hyde Park, leading the Household Cavalry on their daily canter, and the early morning joggers witnessing the scene not batting an eyelid. By which I mean that although Mayor has mixed and mashed a myriad of styles and inspirations on Not a dry eye in London that one would never have imagined working so well together,  they do, seamlessly, inspiringly, and excitingly so!

ALEXANDER’S FESTIVAL HALL will be playing a special acoustic set of songs from Not a dry eye in London at the P-TCP Live Edition Mustered No.5 on Thursday 25th April 2012 from 7.30pm in the upstairs acoustic room at The Betsey Trotwood, London EC1. For more details: www.theculturalpick.com/events


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Alexander’s Festival Hall: www.alexandersfestivalhall.org

Music review: A Guided Tour of Madness – Madness

grid box:Layout 1(Salvo) 3CD & 1 DVD box set anthology
On release

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

Through a rainy and misty dusk on London’s Westminster Bridge, the lamplight reflecting on the tarmac between the cars, black cabs, and Routemaster buses, the unmistakeable silhouette of the Houses of Parliament looms majestically over the traffic. It might be the past, the present, or times still to come, but it is unmistakeably and evocatively London, whether viewed from the city’s streets or internationally. Over this image on the back cover of the 72 page booklet accompanying this excellent Madness anthology floats the track listing spanning 30 years and beyond…

All aboard for a guided tour of Madness across three CDs and one DVD, 94 tracks, including singles, from 1979’s The Prince/Madness to 2011’s Le Grand Pantalon (released on CD for the first time), favourite tracks from their nine studio albums, from 1979’s One Step Beyond… to 2009’s The Liberty of Norton Folgate, and the first DVD release of the band’s performance at their inaugural Madstock festival in London’s Finsbury Park in 1992.

Madness One Step Beyond (c)Cameron McVey

Madness One Step Beyond ©Cameron McVey

To accompany this journey the back cover of the booklet unfolds through fantastic 1940s/50s Boys Own style illustrations of derring-do and suspicious goings-on in and around the capital’s bombed out streets and docks to reveal a ‘Sightseers’ Map of Madness’ with locations of import to the band highlighted by a pointing finger and a red dot. Although ostensibly ‘Madworld’, it is explained, is located within “a short stroll from Camden Town”, over the last three decades Madness have become a cipher for the capital as whole.

“We are London…” is the announcement with which the map’s legend begins, which is exactly who Madness are, unmistakably, evocatively and majestically. Listening to the tracks chosen for this anthology, none of which have been diminished by the passing years, it is clear that like the silhouette of the Houses of Parliament, Madness now instantly encapsulate London historical, London contemporary, London timeless. But although the majority of the songs may be London rooted, such is the strength of the songwriting, the storytelling, the shared experience of characters and situations, and the accessibility and irresistible panache of their presentation that they are and have become universal.

Madness ©Michael Putland/Getty Images

Madness ©Michael Putland/Getty Images

The joy of A Guided Tour of Madness is that one can plot one’s own route through the anthology: take the complete, chronological journey from start to finish, start in the era of the band’s work with which one is most familiar or indeed unfamiliar, or hop on and off along the way and see what one discovers. Either way it’s accompanied by a rush of emotions. With so many landmark songs and a career spanning so many years, the words and music are entwined, consciously or unconsciously, with so many stages in one’s own life instantly evoking, with a welter of back of the neck tingles, associations with people and places.

But their power is not purely nostalgic, in listening to the earlier songs again, in many instances for me they appear to have gained extra layers of resonance in the intervening years that I had been oblivious to before. A primary example being Michael Caine, which I realised I had rather dismissed at the time as being more of a ‘novelty’ song, but have completely rediscovered it now in all its perfectly paced and placed sonic and lyrical splendour. Madness’s acute talent for combining the seemingly contradictory elements of humour and poignancy, melancholy and joie de vivre, the wonderfully observed day-to-day with an equally insightfully created surreality, are all to the fore in the song which, depending on your point of view, could be the simple love of a fan for a star, or a far more sinister stalking confession, a cautionary tale of a celebrity being consumed by his public persona, the lost script of a Harry Palmer film… or all those at the same time and more!

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The enduring strength of the songs allied to the degree to which they have entered the vernacular was underlined last year by the reworking of two tracks for television advertisements. Virgin Media’s campaign, More Exciting Place to Live, used the lyrics of Our House narrated over the music of Dan Black’s HYPNTZ, whilst as part of Kronenbourg 1664’s Slow the Pace advertising campaign, Madness themselves rearranged Baggy Trousers, slowing the song right down to create the highly reflective and Francophile, Le Grand Pantalon. The track closes the anthology’s chronological journey in wonderfully surreal style, as though the life of Madness has been reimagined by Amelie director, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, raising a glass of cognac and, as the repeated vocal refrain of Le Grand Pantalon has it, “baggy trousers to the days/To the days/To the days…”

A glass of cognac, and indeed any baggy trousers, should also be raised to Salvo because A Guided Tour of Madness continues their fantastic catalogue of box sets, put together with fantastic and celebratory creativity, insight, and passion. Each part of the concept for the Madness anthology works wonderfully well from the track selection, to the booklet which also includes an essay by Paul Morley, new interviews with the band and key personnel, and a reproduction of the first issue of the Nutty Boys Comic (1981), to the overall look and feel of the packaging… a wonderful celebration of the days: past, present, and still to come.

Links:




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Madness:
blog.madness.co.uk
www.myspace.com/madnessofficial

Salvo: www.salvo-music.co.uk
Union Square: www.unionsquaremusic.co.uk

Book review: The Drowning Pool – Syd Moore

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(Avon) Paperback: £6.99; ebook: £4.49

Reviewed by Dave Collins

Taking the codes and conventions of classic ghost stories and positioning them within a contemporary setting, Syd Moore’s debut novel, The Drowning Pool, is literally a tale of two dimensions. Sarah Grey, a young widowed mother, appears to be receiving signs, visions and visitations from the spirit of a long dead, although still unsettled, 19th century sea witch, also named Sarah Grey. But is it stress, illness or something genuinely supernatural that’s behind the hauntings?

The novel’s threads of historical wrong doings and teaser glimpses of horrors-to-follow have the long shadows of H. P. Lovecraft cast across them, while the serial style chapter closers draw on Charles Dickens and Bram Stoker, with the veil of local myths and mysteries stirring memories of Thomas  Hardy and The Withered Arm.

Bringing us into the present day, Sarah Gray and her network of female friends and family are a compact circle of extended sisterhood – almost an allusion to unwritten coven bonds for modern times – reclaiming the ‘Essex Girl’ image as an East Anglian archetype rather than a tangerine-tinted stereotype.

Taking its base, build and background from the area’s tradition of witchcraft, witch hunters and cunning men, keeps the fantasy rooted in reality but also brings a fresh perspective to the sexual politics of ‘Witchfinder General’, Matthew Hopkins’ 17th century hate crusades – particularly in Essex.

Like Hardy’s studies and sketches of ‘Wessex’, the book’s topographical map is also Syd Moore’s home town, Leigh on Sea, a Thames-side fishing village terraced between its neighbours, Hadleigh and Southend-on-Sea. If you are a Southender (or familiar with the area) you’ll click and connect with the micro-local references immediately. If not, you’ll want to visit and root around the town ticking off The Drowning Pool locations: Old Leigh, the Library Gardens, or St Peter’s Church, looking for sword marks on the Mary Ellis grave (yes, they really are there) and similar historical reminders of a hidden past.

One of the most accomplished debut novels I’ve read, The Drowning Pool’s now-wave narrative, historical story arcs and subtext of gender politics through the ages presents a fully formed, confidently voiced entrance into the world of fiction of any genre. With none of the style finding Bambi-steps and plot-wobbles that usually dilute the early works of established authors. It is a pitch-perfect read for a wild, wind-whipped, wintry evening. A black Jackanory, that at its ghostliest moments will trace a line of grave-cold fingernails down your spine, and one of the few books-at-bedtime that has genuinely given me a fidgety night’s sleep.

Tuesday 6th December 2011: Syd Moore will be in conversation with Dave Collins on the Radio Podrophenia programme on Chance Radio (www.chanceradio.com).
Listen live from 9pm or catch up with the programme after broadcast on iTunes.

podrophenia

In addition to being a regular contributor to both the webzine and print editions of Plectrum-The Cultural Pick, Dave Collins is editor of the blog, Planet Mondo, and also presents the programme, Radio Podrophenia, with co-host, Piley, on Chance Radio every Tuesday from 9pm. Following the live broadcast each episode of Radio Podrophenia is available on iTunes (search under, ‘Podrophenia’).

Links:

Avon is an imprint of Harper Collins:  www.harpercollins.co.uk

Chance Radio: www.chanceradio.com

Radio Podrophenia: www.facebook.com/Podrophonia.co.uk

Planet Mondo:  planetmondo.blogspot.com

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Single review: Dirty Lakes – Let’s Buy Happiness

dirty-lakes-lets-buy-happiness-cover

(Ghost Arc Records) On release
Reviewed by Dave Collins

Warmed only by a Motown backbeat and some woolly fuzzed-up guitar Dirty Lakes, the latest transmission from Tynesiders Let’s Buy Happiness is fitted around the neat, clean lines of a Scandinavian design school with a hand-stitched folk-art finish. It’s entirely the style of a midnight lullaby that’s a ready-to-run storyboard for an animated Eastern European short film. The delicately textured ghostly guitar washes from James Hall/Graeme Martin and Sarah Hall’s pixie-voiced skipping gives Dirty Lakes the close-mic’d intimacy of a fireside confessional from Kate Bush’s pen pal.
lets-buy-happiness1

Links
Let’s Buy Happiness:  letsbuyhappiness.com

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Single review: Turn 2 Dust – Boy George

turn 2 dust boy george

(Decode) On release

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

The revolving opening rhythms that draw one into the ‘original mix’ of the highly atmospheric Turn 2 Dust suggest a police helicopter hovering above city streets; the sound of spinning rotor blades overhead make one wary on even the most familiar streets, bring an edginess to the happiest evening out, as all too often one can only hear the sound, and see neither the helicopter, nor what it can see, perhaps just around the next corner.

Emotionally and politically charged, Turn 2 Dust, which has now been released in a nine track remix package (including mixes by David Jones, Bootik, and a great ‘lovebox’ mix by Kris de Angelis and Sam H), is the second single from Ordinary Alien – The Kinky Roland Files, Boy George’s first artist album in nine years, on which it is the opening and particularly stand out track. Beginning with the homophobic pejorative, “Chi Chi man everywhere you turn”, the song is an exhortation to remain strong and proud in the face of growing intolerance and hate crimes directed not only towards gay men and women, but towards anyone who is different, or stands out from the crowd.

Within weeks of Turn 2 Dust’s first appearance, with the release of Ordinary Alien in March, the song’s message was brought even closer to home for Boy George, after one of his oldest friends, Philip Sallon, the always flamboyantly dressed, 59 year old, gay socialite and club host, who founded the Mud Club in the 1980s, was left unconscious, with a fractured skull, and many broken bones, after being attacked in London’s Soho; streets with which he is very familiar and on which he has been a familiar figure for over 40 years. Speaking after the attack, for which no one has yet been arrested, Boy George said, “It’s hard to say and you don’t want to jump to conclusions, but it must have been something to do with the way he looked.”

Listening to Turn 2 Dust on the back of August’s riots in London and other English cities, watching footage, much shot from helicopters overhead, of violence and flames, familiar streets made unfamiliar in an instant, brings another layer to the song.

Portentous and powerful, lyrically and musically Turn 2 Dust is an highly evocative collage of urban life: edgy dance beats give way to the sweet release of floating melodies, one both relaxes into the moment and stays watchful, not knowing what might be around the next corner, pleasure and pain are co-existent on these city streets. Turn 2 Dust is a great return for Boy George, that both channels resonances of all that has gone before, whist also resolutely setting off in a fascinating new direction.

We would all be the poorer if everyone was the same. Long may he continue to celebrate difference.

Links:
Boy George: www.boygeorgeuk.com
Decode Records: mn2s.com

Further reading:
Recent music reviews in Plectrum – The Cultural Pick
Miracle Worker – Superheavy (Mick Jagger, Dave Stewart, Joss Stone, Damian Marley, A.R. Rahman)
Elephant Room – Channel Cairo
Different Story – Wolfette

Or click on the tag Music Reviews to browse all the music reviews in the webzine edition of Plectrum – The Cultural Pick

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Single review: Miracle Worker – Superheavy (Mick Jagger, Dave Stewart, Joss Stone, Damian Marley, A.R. Rahman)

superheavy-miracle-cover

super-heavy

(Universal Music) On release

Reviewed by Dave Collins

How do fidgety rock stars busy themselves during their downtime? By forming a supergroup with similarly loose-ended friends. SuperHeavy is a tag-team which at its heaviest-hitting end stars Mick Jagger, Dave Stewart and Joss Stone. Buffed up with international swish from Damian Marley and A.R. Rahman (composer of the Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours soundtracks).

It’s a collective whose debut single dips a toe into the shallows of extra strength reggae. The ‘extra’ being soul vocals with rock guitar. However – music that may pump with muscular dub ‘n’ thump during a high end studio playback, can, on standard issue home audio sound, well, overcooked and/or sterile.

Certainly there’s enough ‘song’ and substance buried under the gloss, but an over polished production positions Miracle Worker at the wrong end of the reggae spectrum, leaving the backing track uncomfortably close to the white bread dynamics of UB40.

The irony here is SuperHeavy aren’t actually heavy enough. The single lacks the thick rhythmic fug and touches of Coxsone Dodd’s Studio One output or some dubbier dynamics. Hinting-at, but never quite hitting the genre’s heady textures.

As a song it’s a fine enough piece of pop built on a solid body of workable raw material and nippy top lines. As a production it’s in need of a snappier remix. To these ears, SuperHeavy should tighten up the loose Lovers Rock grooves and let Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry loose on the tune to wing in some vintage grit, shuffle and skank.

Dave Collins is editor of Planet Mondo and a regular contributor to Plectrum – The Cultural Pick

Links:
Superheavy: www.superheavy.com
Planet Mondo: planetmondo.blogspot.com
Universal Music: www.universalmusic.com

Further reading
Recent music reviews in Plectrum – The Cultural Pick:
Turn 2 Dust – Boy George
Elephant Room – Channel Cairo
Different Story – Wolfette

Or click on the tag Music Reviews to browse all the music reviews in the webzine edition of Plectrum – The Cultural Pick

Follow Plectrum – The Cultural Pick on Facebook:

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Book Review: Everything Beautiful Began After – Simon Van Booy

ebba-front-cover-31

(Beautiful Books) Hardback £15.99; ebook £12.99

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

At first one is struck by the sheer beauty of the words. Words that combine poetically and often with seemingly abstract imagery into sentences that feel like the most delicate threads that should be reread and savoured for their own protection. The story seems secondary to the desire to maintain the feeling they engender, but the only way to do that is to keep reading. In so doing, one is almost unaware of the degree to which one is being drawn into the narrative, so gently and sensuously do the sentences envelop one.

However, when tragedy befalls the characters half way through the book, following the anger one feels with Simon Van Booy for not only turning the lives of Rebecca, George, and Henry upside down, but also one’s own, realisation dawns as one picks up the book thrown to one side in an effort to break the skein in which he has enmeshed you, that he has you well and truly caught on the hook at the end of those threads. The desire to keep reading is underscored by the fear of how it would feel to go cold turkey at that point such is one’s addiction to the book. Thankfully, although sadness does remain, as the second half of the story unfolds, hope is restored so fully to both the characters and the reader, that like them one does feel better equipped to embrace the future.

Haunted by events in their childhoods, the three lost and lonely protagonists have come to Athens, Greece, from three different countries and ostensibly with three different intentions: French artist, Rebecca, to paint, American expert in ancient languages, George, to translate, and English archaeologist, Henry, to dig. As their lives intertwine, their love for, and dependency upon each other grows, and in the streets of modern Athens and amidst the ruins of Ancient Greece, to further that love they begin to excavate and make sense of their own pasts, ultimately creating the means for independence and redemption.

Van Booy’s debut novel wonderfully and exhilaratingly compounds the promise, talent, and acclaim inherent in his two collections of short stories, Love Begins in Winter (Beautiful Books, 2009), which won the 2009 Frank O’ Connor Short Story Award, and The Secret Lives of People in Love (Beautiful Books, 2010). Beautiful, innovative, devastating, delightful, Everything Beautiful Began After is everything and more.

Links:
Simon Van Booy: www.simonvanbooy.com

Beautiful Books: www.beautiful-books.co.uk

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Single Review: Elephant Room – Channel Cairo

elephant room channel cairo cover

(Laissez Faire Club Records) Released 29th August 2011

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

Opening floatingly with a piano like sunlight crested waves, and harmonies that gently build the swell, the debut single by Channel Cairo, Elephant Room, quickly becomes a bracing walk along the beach of a seaside town, as layers of fascinating and atmospheric refrains, vocals, piano, guitars, and rhythms, fleetingly and enticingly reach one on the ebb and flow. Or perhaps the allusion is to AM radio waves and the fluctuations of reception and interference, creating a sonic collage. Either way, as all the disparate threads evocatively coalesce with complete and rousing clarity for the song’s epic, climactic crescendo, one is already hooked and on the strength of this refreshingly original single determined to stay tuned to Channel Cairo.

The intriguing multi-layering also extends to the band’s name and, in its evocative combination of kidnapping and hieroglyphs, brings an extra suggestion of a thriller or film noir title. Cairo is a city that has haunted lead singer and keyboard player, Josh Bowyer, since he was kidnapped there, albeit very briefly, at the age of nine. But it was only when he put together the band with old friends Hamish Murtagh (guitar), Joe Cross (bass), James Gardiner (drums), that he discovered that Gardiner’s great, great grandfather was the preeminent early – mid twentieth century Egyptologist, Sir Alan Gardiner, who in 1927 published the important work, Egyptian Grammar: Being an Introduction to the Study of Hieroglyphs. Whilst ‘channel’ is a reference to the Anglo-French line-up of the band, as a few weeks after the old friends got together they met a French guitarist, Luke Saunders, at an open-mic night and asked him to join the line-up.

The cover of the single includes the imprint of a letter written by Howard Carter to Sir Alan Gardiner, discussing the former’s discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun in the Valley of the Kings, Luxor, Egypt. But don’t wait for the sands of time to settle before you unearth Channel Cairo… discover them now with this excellent debut single.

Links:
Channel Cairo:  www.channelcairo.com

Laissez Faire Club Records: laissezfaireclub.com

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Book Review: The Novels of Simon Astaire: Private Privilege, And You Are…?, Mr Coles

(Each book published by Quartet Books)

Reviewed by Sam Burcher

Simon Astaire (c)Simon Astaire

Simon Astaire ©Simon Astaire

Simon Astaire’s loosely woven trilogy of novels is an attempt to free himself from his past and become a respected writer. No longer content to manage the lives of other people, he has come a long way from being the best friend of Sting, the squire of Tara Palmer-Tomkinson and Ulrika Jonsson, and the personal manager of Princess Michael of Kent.

By his own admission, Astaire began writing because his therapist suggested it after they hit upon the fact that he had been so emotionally unavailable in his relationships. This is something that he relates directly to the experience of being sent away from home at a very young age to Harrow School.

The first two books, Private Privilege, And You Are…?, are his rites of passage, whilst Mr Coles is an extension of that exploration and written with extraordinary darkness.

private-privilege-cover

In Private Privilege, Astaire’s alma mater is thinly veiled as Montgomery House, and it is through this medium that I found myself vicariously returning to a world of Sunday exeats, black tails and boaters, and bumpy rides on the Metropolitan line to Harrow-on-the-Hill, on London’s outermost margins, for Speech Day.

Reading this book has helped me to understand what happened to my brother Julien during his time at Harrow, which was concurrent with the story told here.  Astaire’s peripatetic take has undoubtedly demystified some of my private perceptions of public school education.

The books central character Samuel Alexander, note the initials match the author’s, is sent away from home at 13 to begin a life at Montgomery House. From day one he is greeted with an oppressive regime of fagging, toshing, and bullying by older boys as the norm. Calculated acts of rebellion such as graffiti, theft, truancy, and drug taking intensify to arson and even suicide, all of which are hushed up by the school.

In empowering Sam in whichever ways he can against this dysfunctional backdrop, Astaire is giving a respectful nod to Lindsay Anderson’s powerful film, If, which is about a schoolboy lead revolution in a public school. From this forms surreal images of the shape shifting and shamanic psyche of a schoolboy torn from his roots and situated in a conditional culture where loneliness and abandonment reign and, fortunately, Matron is the only succor.

The task of raising public consciousness about the sticky subject of adolescent boys from an insider’s view of an ‘establishment’ institution is a tricky one. But the author manages it by using a literary camera obscura that allows him to entertain, whilst asking questions that go beyond mere survival.

and-you-are

Astaire’s second novel, And You Are…?, follows seamlessly and swiftly on the heels of Private Privilege. Sam, the central character, has graduated with dishonour from his emotionally deprived public school, and is ready and willing to face the challenges of young adulthood.

A former agent to stars, Astaire draws deeply on his own experience of Hollywood to entertain us.  He cleverly plays with time to measure just the right amount of reverie for the grand days of a Hollywood past to balance the book’s present.  Indeed, this mix of fact and fiction acts as a powerful stimulus to the reader’s imagination.

There are plenty of laughs, as well as an eclectic coterie of friends, acquaintances, a snake and Telly Savalas. On the other hand, the emotional darkness of the first novel remains. Only this time, the grief of a boy’s separation from everything that is familiar to him is disguised as the death of his older brother.  His grief finds company with the lonely Hollywood actors, who despite their fame, drink alone at the bar.  Perhaps no one is as lonely as the stars.

The second novel demands a second love affair, which comes in the form of the free-spirited February, who is the conduit for the author’s detailed and sensuous descriptions of nature.  She is the muse guiding the juxtaposition between the smog on the Scaletrix streets of Los Angeles and the scented forests high above the Hollywood hills. Such attention to the natural world would make the Pre-Raphaelites proud.

As I read this book one afternoon at Kentish Town station, I couldn’t help but notice a railway worker flapping a pretty grey and white pigeon off the opposite platform. After much wafting with the lid of a large cardboard box she succeeded.  I had just got to the part in the book where Sam is imagining his own death during lovemaking with his first love. I was reading about death, thinking about death and suddenly death was imminent. I looked up from my reading.

A shrill whistle meant that the worker had not finished tormenting the pigeon, which was now perched upon the track.  Its body convulsed with the electric current as the 18.30 to St Albans collided into it.  In one motion, the bird fell to its own little death and as the train departed there was no sign of it. I dared to believe that the pigeon had flown away like an angel, or a Magi. Then, from beyond the track, I saw a white wing rise once, twice, and then no more.  A railway worker looking on flashed me a cynical smile as he made towards the opposite platform with a pair of plastic litter pickers at the ready.

This book has strange ways of connecting with the reader through different mediums. As with the previous novel, music is used as a channel. So too is food, place and smell.  But it is the celebration and the tribulations of youth in search of identity that connect you to its core. Ultimately, Sam’s story is about the ambitions, with sensitive limits, of a boy who will not be broken by systems that don’t always care, be it the public school system, or Hollywood.

mr-coles

Mr Coles is Astaire’s third novel, published this year.  It picks up the theme of private school, this time from the perspective of a teacher in a boys’ prep school in Norfolk.  But this is no ordinary teacher; this is Mr Coles, pederast and fantasist. Written in the first person narrative it takes the reader intimately into the lurid depths of the daily machinations of an alcoholic child sexual abuser.

Lyrically beautiful, tighter and more multi-textural than the previous two novels, it is a compelling read rather than a comfortable one.  A book of two halves, we fast forward twenty years after Mr Coles has tricked the family of his most desired pupil into being invited to their summer retreat in Cannes, and is eventually found out. But who tells?

Comparisons can be made to Thomas Mann’s novella and film, Death in Venice.  However, Mr Coles is not merely a voyeur.  His sweaty desires are actualized and when not in the act, he is a lone predator prowling the dormitories sniffing the sheets of little boys.

The three novels demonstrate just how successful Astaire has been in his stated mission. All three books have enjoyed critical and commercial success. Private Privilege is a bestseller and Astaire has recently adapted Mr Coles into a screenplay for a film which begins shooting in Norfolk, in the East of England, early next year. He has also received a lot of feedback from Old Harrovians who similarly found it hard to commit to a relationship or communicate with their partners. Although equally, he has also heard from those who said their time at Harrow was very happy and the best start to life they could have had.

Links
Quartet Books: www.quartetbooks.co.uk

Sam Burcher: www.samburcher.com

Plectrum – The Cultural Pick

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Single Review: Different Story – Wolfette

wolfette-different-story-cover-3

(Lavaland Records) Released 1st August 2011

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

Sublime pop from the equally stunning singer-songwriter, Wolfette, and her co-writer and producer, the multi-talented, multi-instrumentalist, Gisli Kristjansson, who together have cleverly and triumphantly melded a reimagined Hi-NRG, by way of ZTT’s take on electronica, with 1990s alt rock – Shoegaze, Britpop, and something altogether darker and heavier – to create an immediate, swirlingly anthemic song, which is perfect for the now, and to which resistance would not only be foolhardy, but most probably futile.

Different Story tells of impasse in a relationship on the verge of rupture and the spirited eleventh hour refusal to forget the love that first brought the couple together, or to forgo hope for reconciliation and passion reiginition. Wolfette’s wonderful vocals evocatively colour the light and dark, from the breathy, brightest of bright choruses, to the more sinister, stiletto sharp, edginess of the bridge. All of which adds to the very welcome stylistic echoes which imbue Different Story, from Kim Wilde’s Kids in America, to Lush’s Single Girl, and shades of Shirley Manson and Debbie Harry, intriguingly bringing to mind two Blondie tracks from opposite ends of their discography, One Way or Another and Maria.

Lyrically and musically Different Story urges, infectiously so as it transpires, to dance all over deadlock, and in so doing embrace hope and the promise of brighter things to come. Different Story also highlights the promise of a bright future with which Wolfette abounds, whilst also providing a fantastic, hope inspiring moment to enjoy right now!

Link
Wolfette:
www.myspace.com/wolfettemusic
www.facebook.com/wolfettemusic
twitter.com/wolfettemusic

Gisli Kristjansson:
www.gislikristjansson.com

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