Posts Tagged ‘Pick Up’

Book Review: Surf Mama – Wilma Johnson

surf-mama-cover

Paperback: (Summersdale) £8.99
Hardback: (Beautiful Books) £20.00

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

One could perhaps extrapolate that a defining formative moment for Wilma Johnson was the afternoon that she arrived late for a date with Joe Strummer, the legendary frontman of the equally legendary band, The Clash, to find he had already left and she never saw him again.

As she recounts in Surf Mama they had originally met in Camden Town, North London, whilst she was still a pupil at North London Collegiate School, when she chatted him up in a bar by asking, “‘Hello, are you Joe Strummer? Do you want to buy me a drink?'” To which, she writes, “‘I already have,’ he said with the coolest smile in the history of rock ‘n’ roll and handed me a can of Colt 45.” After which he would always put her on the guest list for gigs The Clash played, one of which coincided with her favourite day at school – the day she left! – when she hitchhiked to Aylesbury, a town to the north west of London, to see them.

Johnson had already begun her degree in Fine Art/Painting and Photography at St Martin’s School of Art in central London when Strummer took her out to lunch in nearby Soho and also bought her a present of some fabric from Berwick Street market. They arranged to meet the next day to go to an afternoon rockabilly gig, but she got stuck in a photography lecture and arrived late to find the gig had been cancelled and Strummer had left, and was heading off on tour soon after.

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The what-might-have-been has stayed with her, and continued to irk her, and one could make the case that the lesson she learnt by staying in lessons that day and conforming to a timetable placed upon her, and by extension conforming to what external powers would consider the best choice for a girl at her age and stage, to put classes before “a date with my favourite rock star”, was a lesson hard learnt. Particularly brought to bear twenty plus years later when she had turned forty and was living the life of a self-professed “earth mother” with her husband, three young children, and ducks, on the west coast of Ireland. One day looking out to sea on the “westernmost beach in Europe” reflecting on her long held desire to be a surfer, she edged into the initially comforting thought that now being a woman, a mother, and over 40, no one would expect her ever to do so, and admitting to herself that no one had probably expected she would, or could, anyway.

But her comfort was immediately submerged, as she writes, “as if an icy wave has crashed over my head. What does this mean? That I will never learn to surf? That it’s too late? That I’m too old?” She resurfaced with the revelation that she did still want to become a surfer and a voice in her head repelling the dictates of convention with ever greater force: “‘NONONONONONO!’ the voice shouts. ‘I cannot be too old, I will become an extreme sports heroine if I choose to.'”

Though I am wary of underplaying the power of Strummer, and The Clash per se, challenging convention was in Johnson’s blood long before she met him. Her motorcycle riding grandmother was one of the first women dentists in the 1920s, and when she was growing up her economist, Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur, father would “wander around the house in a kimono at the weekends singing along to the soundtrack of The Jungle Book”, and took up windsurfing in his fifties. Equally, after Strummer’s departure from her life, Johnson turned away from punk to New Romanticism, of which her generation of St Martin’s students was the epicentre, and also, with Christine and Jennifer Binnie and Grayson Perry, in 1979 she founded the Neo-Naturist Cabaret, a ‘performance based live art practice’, whose idiosyncratic, body-painted, naturism took night clubs, galleries, festivals, public places, and even the stage of London’s Royal Opera House by storm.

Apres Surf at the Naturist Beach © Wilma Johnson

Après Surf at the Naturist Beach © Wilma Johnson

All of which, to my mind at least, creates an eccentrically perfect set of ingredients for not only taking up surfing in one’s early-forties, but also becoming an accomplished surfer! Although the ingredients did not begin to really blend until a few years after her epiphanic moment on the Irish beach, by which stage she and her husband had split up and she was living with her children in a village near Biarritz, the Atlantic coast city in south western France, which has become internationally renowned for surfing since the late 1950s. In addition to her own determination not to be beaten, Johnson’s surf chefs de cuisine came in the form of two friends she made in Biarritz, Johanna Matsson, a former professional free-skier, with whom she hatched a plan to form the Mamas Surf Club, a women-only surf club with the motto, ‘Out of the kitchen and into the surf’, and Matsson’s partner, Christophe Reinhardt, a former French surf champion, who became the Mamas’ instructor.

Now in her fifties Johnson is more than an accomplished surfer, she is a “surf addict”, her blood does more than stream, it crests with waves:
“I paddle down the face, then I stand up as the board becomes weightless and starts to accelerate. I can hear the white water breaking behind me and see the glassy blue curve stretching out in front of me. The spray blows into my face, flickering with prisms in the sunlight. In a moment I might be underwater swallowing seawater and small jellyfish, but right now I am an ancient princess of Hawaii, I am a bikini model, I am a goddess before the crest of a monster billow.”

Surf Mama is an exceptional memoir. Exceptional both in the story told and the storytelling. Exciting, funny, touching, revelatory, so completely does Johnson draw one in that one gets knocked for six when she wipes out, one dances for joy when she eventually hangs ten. Equally in all the exceptionality, in all Johnson’s brilliant upending of age and gender proscriptions and stereotyping, Surf Mama is a tale to which everyone can relate and take inspiration from. Because it is also a book about love and family, dreams and ambitions, and how one responds to, or more appropriately, rides the waves of, the changes that getting older brings to them all. Surf Mama is also a beautifully produced book, the publishers, Beautiful Books, very much living up to their name; the text is complemented and interspersed throughout with Johnsons’ wonderfully evocative paintings… writer, surfer, mother, she is also an internationally exhibited artist. Ultimately, Surf Mama is an highly inspiring, thoroughly enjoyable, and heartily recommended book.

Links:
Wilma Johnson: http://wilma.me/

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Book Review: A Taste of Chlorine by Bastien Vivès

a-taste-of-chlorine

(Jonathan Cape) £16.99

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

Originally published in France in 2008, A Taste of Chlorine won the prestigious Essential Révélation prize, awarded to the most outstanding new talent, the following year at the Festival International de la Bande Dessinée d’Angoulême, Europe’s largest festival of graphic novels and comic book art held every January in the town in south west France. At the time Bastien Vivès was just short of his 26th birthday and the book was his third published work. All of which adds another layer to the accomplishment of this beautifully realised book.

Finally giving in to the repeated requests of his chiropractor to take up swimming, a teenage boy, suffering from curvature of the spine, begins going to his local pool every Wednesday. At first he finds not only the exercise hard going but also the environment to be just as hard, cold, anonymous, and uninviting. But then he meets an enigmatic, pretty girl, whose Arena swimwear, he rightly deduces, signifies that she has been a competitive swimmer. Their friendship develops hebdomadally, with few words, predominantly through touch and demonstration as she helps him improve his swimming technique. As they get closer and his prowess increases, so the swimming pool becomes a softer, more intimate space, with the other users fading into the background.

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But when he seeks to find out more about his muse, she is evasive to his questions, finally mouthing something to him underwater, which she promises to elucidate the following week, only to then not show up that week, or the week after…

A Taste of Chlorine is a wonderfully engrossing book, with few words, Vivès’ artwork, in ripple-edged frames and a muted palette, predominantly of aquamarine, draws one in, almost imperceptibly until, in parallel to the closing underwater scenes, one finds one has become completely submerged by the characters and their simple story beautifully told. And, like the boy, completely desirous to know more about the girl and as desperate to decipher what exactly it is she said underwater.

Links
Bastien Vivès: bastienvives.blogspot.com

Jonathan Cape is an imprint of The Random House Group: www.randomhouse.co.uk

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Book Review: The Hardy Tree, A Story About Gang Mentality – Iphgenia Baal

the-hardy-tree-cover1

(Trolley Books) £14.99

Reviewed by Delisia Howard and Chris Price

We really like this book… It’s a wild and poetic history which, while hanging on by white knuckles to the facts, stirs up a dark potion rushing through the stygian channels of London – the ragamuffin gangs of ne’er-do-wells and resurrection men, Coney catchers and bawdy bastards. The book itself, beautifully produced, is stained by a ‘dish o’ tay’ thrown in the mists of time, seeping into the type like unconscious memory. There are also very nice pictures, well-spaced and by human hand.

Baal touches the dead hand of Hardy as a young man working for the railway as an engineer, moving the rotting dead cadavers from the St Pancras bone yard, with the help of Jerry Cruncher look-alikes and gin and porter soaked navigators, and the gilded dustman admires his seething heaps against the fire of a Mad Martin sunset. Magically their stones are girt around a huge tree like a ruff on a Danish Lutheran proclaiming the Day of Wrath.

Hardy’s dark world – the whispering Egdon Heath, the hanged children in Jude, his miskatonick Fates weaving their cold logic as it guides lost souls to destruction from Casterbridge to Christminster – this book explains it all.

When St Augustine preached from old St Pancras Church, the Angles had already been identified as angels in their chains, with golden hair and milk white skin… The pale kings and princes too stalk this marvelous place… All England stretched out on a once rural hillock…  Here lay Bristol’s Marvelous Boy, Chatterton, leaping out of a sarcophagus months before expiring in that lonely attic in Brooke’s Market, Holborn, a small blue vial and a fragment of forged Saxon verse falling from his 17 year old hand…   Here reigns, in his Portland stone telephone box, Sir John Soane, dreaming of a London in ruins, the ragged manacled gates of Newgate opened at last… Blake and Fuseli chatting to Augustine’s angels and Charles Dickens summoning up the marsh gas as it rises above the image of a man with a spade…

Iphgenia Baal has created a spectacular panorama, a thrilling breath of fresh air, crackling with life, as well crafted as a Flaxman bas-relief, even if it is about the lives of the dead…

Read Delisia Howard and Chris Price’s regular column in the print edition of Plectrum – The Cultural Pick.

Links:
Iphgenia Baal: iphgeniabaal.wordpress.com/
Trolley Books: trolleybooks.com

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EP Review: Field to City – Ben Clarke

ben-clarke-field-to-city-cover-photograph-by-sarah-thompson

Four track EP: Until You Come Calling/Your Reasons Have Escaped Me/The Longing/Change Your Story
Revtone Records
Available from iTunes

By Guy Sangster Adams

Ben Clarke’s debut solo EP is an absolute pleasure. Its sunlit, ethereally melodic pastoralism interwoven with the irrepressibility of urbanist swagger and momentum is equally evocative of the sheer breadth of experience, inspiration, and excitement of Clarke’s progression over the last six years from, as the title has it, Field to City.

After growing up surrounded by endless fields and infinite skies deep in the countryside of England’s second largest county, Lincolnshire (a particularly rural county in which the land is predominantly given over to agricultural use), in 2005 aged just 17 – having left school at 16 to pursue a musical career – Clarke co-founded the band, Littl’ans, with Andrew Aveling.

Within months of forming they were not only the main support act on Babyshambles’ sold out tour, but had also released their debut single, Their Way, featuring Pete Doherty. The single reached number 2 in the UK Indie charts, and by the end of the year Littl’ans were headlining their own Club NME tour. The following year they collaborated with French fashion designer, Hedi Slimane, to provide the soundtrack for the Dior Homme Spring/Summer 2007 catwalk show. Their debut album, Primitive World, which had been recorded in New York, was released in 2008 and their tour dates took them around the world, and included playing 2009’s South by Southwest Festival (SXSW) in Austin, Texas, USA. But late in 2009 Clarke left the band to concentrate on his own material.

Ben Clarke photographed by Sarah Thompson

Ben Clarke photographed by Sarah Thompson ((Gig Junkie: gigjunkie.co.uk)

The first released fruits of which are the four tracks on Field to City, which were once again recorded in New York. Perhaps unsurprisingly as Clarke was the drummer in Littl’ans, the rhythm section is very much to the fore in each of the tracks which, as alluded to above, creates a fantastically charged upbeat inner city rock contrasting to great effect with the more bucolic or folky elements of the mix. This brings a welcome suggestion of both The Kinks and Love. Indeed, Clarke’s vocals and harmonies which by turns are wistfully reflective or soaring to meet the swallows flying high above, have shades of Ray Davies and Arthur Lee, and throughout Field to City there is, carried in the light summer breeze across from Lincolnshire’s neighbouring county, Cambridgeshire, a note of Syd Barrett.

In addition to singing all the vocals and backing vocals on the EP, Clarke also proves himself to be a talented multi-instrumentalist, playing not only the drums on all the tracks but also the rhythm guitar, tambourine, and cabasa. Whilst Ian Everall from The Albertans plays bass guitar on all the tracks, Federico Zinelli lead guitar, and David Brandwein, who was also the record’s recording engineer, plays an extraordinary sounding 1960s Haggstrom Futurama guitar on the EP’s closing, and far heavier sounding track, Change Your Story. The particularity of the guitar sound was added to, as Clarke recounts, by Brandwein, “putting it through an old battered 15 watt Fender amplifier”.

Ben Clarke playing live at the Plectrum Live Editon: Brit Bitz December 2010, photographed by Emma Jane Clarke

Ben Clarke playing at the Plectrum Live Editon: Brit Bitz December 2010, photographed by Emma Jane Clarke

For me, all of the elements come together most strongly on the second track, Your Reasons Have Escaped Me, which though implicitly of the now, would sit wonderfully well as a contemporary reworking of Forever Changes period Love, but that is not to take away from the other three tracks on Field to City. Taken as a joyous whole it is the richest colours even on the greyest day, a captivating smile from a passer-by which melts the concrete and steel of a city street and uplifts even the most jaded soul.

Links
Ben Clarke:
Field to City EP on iTunes

Ben Clarke Myspace

Ben Clarke Facebook

Ben Clarke Twitter

Sarah Thompson/Gig Junkie

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FURTHER READING
Music reviews in the webzine edition of Plectrum – The Cultural Pick:

Marilyn Monroe (Wam Bam JFK) – The Wolfmen/ The Corridor – Youri Blow/ One Born Every Minute – Roses Kings Castles/ War is Noise – Jaakko & Jay / Beachcomber’s Windowsill – Stornoway/ Sisterworld – Liars/ Nintendo EP & Love Is Not Rescue – Chris T-T/ Sometime Around MidnightThe Airborne Toxic Event/ Jackie, Is It My Birthday? – The Wolfmen feat. Sinéad O’Connor / Poetry of the Deed –  Frank Turner/ The Cost of Living – The Tunics/ Reasons Not To Be An Idiot – Frank TurnerSingles – The Long Blondes/ Echo & The Bunnymen at the Roundhouse, London, 15th October 2009

Book Review: Haunted Air A Collection of Anonymous Hallowe’en Photographs, America c.1875 – 1955 – Ossian Brown

With an introduction by David Lynch and an afterword by Geoff Cox
(Jonathan Cape) £25.00

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

haunted-air-cover-image
‘The one that scares you is Donnie,’ is the smudged, handwritten annotation on the deckle edge mount of the fading photograph of three boys, of different ages, perhaps brothers, playing on the swings in the yard of a weather-boarded, municipal looking building. From the clothes and the hairstyles it is probably the 1950s, though it might be ten, or even 20 years earlier. The youngest of the trio wears a grotesque mask which makes his head look out of proportion to his body. As do the handmade, decorated, grocery bag masks, with cut out eye- and mouth holes, over the heads of five little girls, photographed against the white weather-boarded side of a school or church or court house, wearing their best dresses and shoes, the stockings of each wrinkled at the knee. Maybe it’s these juxtapositions and the allusion to executioners’ hoods, belied or perhaps reinforced by their homemade-ness, but to appropriate the opening line of this paragraph, it is these butter wouldn’t melt girls of the scaffold that scare me.

All manner of costumes are here, from the expected witches and their black cat familiars, ghosts and skeletons, to pierrots, policemen, and a woman with dress intriguingly decorated with spoons and the legend, ‘won’t you come spoon with me’ emblazoned on her chest, all made gruesome with the addition of a mask.

Photograph from Haunted Air by Ossian Brown (Jonathan Cape)

Photograph from Haunted Air by Ossian Brown (Jonathan Cape)

Like the contradictory emotions of autumn leaves that bring fun and satisfaction when walked or run through, but also sadness that after a blaze of glory they are detached from the tree that bore, often to be thrown into the blaze of a bonfire, leafing through the pages of Haunted Air brings a mixture of fun, fascination, and melancholy. As Geoff Cox recounts in his afterword, the photographs in Ossian Brown’s collection were “torn from album pages, sold piecemeal for pennies and scattered, abandoned to melancholy chance and the hands of strangers.” These costumed portrayers  of lost souls are now lost themselves, the hands that took the photographs now as anonymous as the subjects, detached from the family trees that bore them. But in this beautifully designed, cloth bound book, Ossian Brown has restored them to an album that not only celebrates these celebrants, but also provides an invaluable record of cultural traditions and photographic history.

Links

Jonathan Cape is an imprint of The Random House Group Ltd: www.randomhouse.co.uk

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Single Review: Marilyn Monroe (Wam Bam JFK) – The Wolfmen

the-wolfmen-wam-bam-jfk-cover-2Marilyn Monroe (Wam Bam JFK) (Radio Edit)
b/w
Marilyn Monroe (Wam Bam JFK)
Is That Earth Down There?
(Howl Records)
To be released 29th November 2010

By Guy Sangster Adams

Loaded with the danger, excitement, edge of a precipice moment of a jet plane in run-up at the airport that now bears JFK’s name, the melody of the verses swirling concentrically with Chris Constantinou’s seraphic higher register vocals  irresistibly draw one into the charged expectancy of take-off. When that moment arrives, with each chorus, it doesn’t disappoint. Marco Pirroni is in blistering form with combustible riffs that go beyond mere take-off into vertical lift-off heading super stellar, that leaves one breathless and never wanting to descend, hoping and relying on Preston Heyman’s infectious beat to keep the blood pumping at the speed one needs it, whilst Constantinou roughs up his earlier celestial choirboy with a suitably rockin’ rasp.

With some Suffragette City returned with love and panache, this is a pop art gem of beauty and tragedy, seen through Roy Lichenstein and Andy Warhol lenses, adroitly and lovingly mixed and polished by a Dandy Warhol, in the form of Courtney Taylor-Taylor, Marilyn Monroe (Wam Bam JFK) is a real blam blam!

The video for Marilyn Monroe (Wam Bam JFK) will receive its premiere screening at the Plectrum Live Edition: A Night at the Rockabilly Revuebar on 27th October 2010 at The Horse Hospital, London WC1. Videos for previous singles by The Wolfmen will also be screened. For more details click here.

To read the Plectrum – The Cultural Pick Review of The Wolfmen’s Jackie, Is it my Birthday? Click here

To watch Guy Sangster Adams, editor  of Plectrum – The Cultural Pick talking to The Wolfmen’s Marco Pirroni and Chris Constantinou go to the Plectrum Broadcast Player by clicking here.

Links

The Wolfmen: thewolfmen.net
www.facebook.com/The-Wolfmen

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Album Review: The Corridor – Youri Blow

Wild House Blues Records
On release

By Guy Sangster Adams

the-corridor-youri-blow-cover
Water is key to Youri Blow’s highly atmospheric second album. En route from its source in Dijon to Le Havre where it meets the English Channel/La Manche, the river Seine flows through Troyes in the Champagne-Ardenne region of France, where Blow was born. Now his home is the port of Brest, which lies in the Finistère département in the extreme west of Brittany, amidst the dramatic landscape of the Rade de Brest, into which five rivers flow and which opens onto the Atlantic Ocean, the waves of which crash spectacularly along Finistère’s wild and rocky coastline. Whilst on the other side of the Atlantic, the area between the Mississippi and Yazoo rivers, The Mississippi Delta, and the Delta Blues that originated there, were a formative influence on Blow.

Though this influence is very apparent on the rasping vocals and rougher edged sound of the tracks Muddy Streams and Strange History, the album is a confluence of influences informed by Blow’s travels, gathered under a genre tag of Psyché Blues. The beautiful Ever Love, with backing vocals by Lucie T., fittingly as it is the album opener and therefore stepping off point for the journey, is rooted in his current home. It has a Celtic heart, Brittany being one of the six Celtic nations, and softer melodies and vocal styling more reminiscent of Nick Drake and John Martyn. Whilst Autour du Templier, titularly at least, pays reference to the Order of the Knights Templer that was officially recognised in Blow’s birthplace at the Council of Troyes in the 12th century.

But over and above this The Corridor is also inspired by Blow’s expedition to far further and more isolated shores, namely the phenomenal land- and waterscapes of Lake Khövsgöl in the north west of Mongolia. He spent two months in Mongolia, travelling with a back pack and a guitar, a large part of which was spent living in a tipi by the lake with members of the Shamanistic Tsaatan reindeer herdsmen, whose social and material culture  has remained unchanged since the Ice Age. Understandably his time in Mongolia had a profound effect on Blow, specifically inspiring three tracks on the album, Khovsgol Lake, Tsagaan Sar (which is the Mongolian lunisolar New Year festival), and Ulan Taïga (a mountain range in Khövsgöl).

Blow’s talent is to meld all the power and diversity of all these dynamic and elemental horizons into an album that works wonderfully well holistically. A multi-instrumentalist, throughout The Corridor he plays a variety of guitars, acoustic, Dobro, and electric Fender Stratocaster, whilst also mixing in violin, and instruments from his travels such as a Mongolian fiddle, Peruvian flute, and Vietnamese jaw harp, to which he also adds overtone singing, a polyphonic style traditional in Mongolia.

The Corridor is an highly enjoyable sonic travelogue, through vistas both real and imaginary, an evocation of the broadest horizons, and as the closing track, L’Eveil de la goutte d’eau, recognises, if you let it, the rhythm of rain drops can transport you wherever a river of imagination may take you.

Links:

Youri Blow

www.youri-blow.com

www.myspace.com/youriblow

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Book Review: Or Glory 21st Century Rockers – Horst A. Friedrichs

(Prestel) £19.99

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams or-glory-cover

Throughout the pages of Horst A. Friedrichs’ photographic exploration of the Rocker subculture in the first decade of the new century, there are some wonderfully evocative juxtapositions created by the images on facing pages. One of which that particularly stands out for me is the pairing of the photographs of Kenneth, taken at The Pavilion in 2009, and Sammi at Rhythm Riot, the annual 1950s music, dancing and vintage lifestyle weekender at Pontin’s Holiday Camp at Camber Sands, also in 2009. Kenneth has a Marlboro Man look about him, his face weather-beaten and etched with the lines of many miles in the saddle, though his steeds have been two-wheeled and resonantly British marques – Royal Enfield, BSA, Norton, Triumph, and the hybrid Triton. His hair though grey and thining, is still quiffed, his sideburns long. From his lips hangs not a mass produced cigarette but a roll-up, over the fraying collar of his faded denim jacket. Rendered in grainy halftone, his portrait contrasts strikingly with the high colour, glossy image of Sammi. She is a beautiful pin-up girl with an edge, very much in the manner of an Angelique Houtkamp heroine. Everything about her is flawless and immaculate, from her curled under Bettie Page bangs, pencilled eyebrows, long, long eyelashes, and red, red lips, to her high waisted indigo denims, and short sleeved black and white striped top, showing off her Houtkamp-style tattoos.

Sammi at Rhythm Riot ©Horst A. Friedrichs

Sammi at Rhythm Riot ©Horst A. Friedrichs

The juxtaposition is both aesthetically striking and also encapsulates the strands that run through Or Glory. Though Friedrichs took all the photographs between 2001 and 2010, in the faces, the places, the clothes, and the motorcycles (to say nothing of the music that you’ll swear you can hear as you turn the pages), is the progression of a subculture from the Ton-Up Boys of the 1950s, to the Rockers of the 1960s, which then proliferated via a myriad of black leather rebel stances through the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, and now in the 2000s, as Friedrichs documents, crosses over with the wide breadth of the Rockin’, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s Vintage Lifestyle, Kustom Kulture, and Burlesque, scenes, and more besides. But be they 59 club veterans, or new converts from around the world, at the core of the Rocker subculture remain the British motorcyles, the ‘A’ road landmarks of the Ace Café (lovingly restored by Mark Willsmore, who is interviewed in the book) and Jack’s Hill Café, and the Lewis Leathers jackets, which from studded, painted, bedecked in badges, and battle worn through to pristine, the pages Or Glory inherently portray 60 years of history of this iconic 118 year old British company, the owner of which, Derek Harris, is also interviewed in the book. Or Glory presents a multi-layered visual narrative that is as fascinating as it is stunning to look at.

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READ THE ICONIC HISTORY OF LEWIS LEATHERS IN ISSUE  2  OF THE PRINT EDITION OF PLECTRUM – THE CULTURAL PICK. FOR MORE DETAILS AND/OR TO BUY A COPY CLICK HERE

Horst A. Friedrichs:  www.horstfriedrichs.com
Prestel:  www.randomhouse.de/prestel_eng/

Film Review: Lola

Mr Bongo Films
DVD on release

By Guy Sangster Adams

lola-cover
One year shy of half a century since its original release, Jacques Demy’s first feature film remains an enchanting cinematic experience. Starring the exquisite Anouk Aimée as the eponymous heroine, Demy dedicated the film to Max Ophüls, in whose last film, Les Amants de Montparnasse (1958), Aimée had also starred, and which is also dedicated to Ophüls as he died whilst it was being filmed. Though Lola also references Josef von Sternberg’s The Blue Angel, in which Marlene Dietrich plays Lola Lola, a singer at the titular cabaret. In Demy’s film, Lola is the name under which Anouk’s character, Cécile, performs, primarily to audiences of sailors, in a cabaret in the French Atlantic coast city of Nantes. In a stylistic reference to Dietrich’s character, Anouk’s Lola at times crowns the corset she performs in with a top hat.

Separate from her cabaret persona, Cécile is a single mother who yearns for the return of her first love, Michel (Jacques Harden), who she first met when she was fourteen and who is also the father of her son, but who left her just before she gave birth, promising to return when he had made his fortune. Demy explores his theme of first love and love lost, love requited and unrequited, and the element of chance that is present in love stories, interweaving the characters of Roland Cassard (Marc Michel), whose chance meeting with Cécile, with whom he was close when they were teenagers, reignites his sense of purpose and also his love at first sight for her, Frankie (Alan Scott), an American sailor, and Cécile Desnoyers (Annie Dupéroux).

lola-anouk-aimee
Anouk’s Cécile shares her bed with Frankie because in his uniform he reminds her of the first time she met Michel, who was also a sailor, at the fairground in the city. When the paths of Dupéroux’s Cécile and Frankie cross, and they two go to the fairground, it carries a wonderful timelessness, as though this could be a flash back of Cécile and Michel, the present moment with Cécile Dupéroux and Frankie, or a flash forward to the ‘first love’ that the burgeoning romantic Cécile Dupéroux is on the cusp of meeting. Wistful timelessness is key to the film as a whole and is part of the fantasy world that Demy created in his films, drawing inspiration from fairytales and musicals.

Music is also key to the film, from the opening frames of the film with the intentional old style Hollywood glamour of Michel’s return to Nantes in white Cadillac, white suit, and white Stetson juxtaposed with Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, to the original music and songs composed for the film by Demy’s  lifelong collaborator, Michel Legrand.

But in honouring the beauty of this film one must also credit its superlative and legendary cinematographer, Raoul Coutard. Whose work two years earlier on the first film of another Nouvelle Vague director, Jean Luc-Godard’s À bout de souffle, was both ground breaking and has proved enduringly influential. Just as Paris became another character in Coutard and Godard’s first collaboration, Nantes and the French Atlantic coast of Demy’s childhood, become an entrancingly well observed ‘character’ in  Lola. Not least the fluted columns, openwork balustrades, and cherubs of the Passage Pommeraye, a shopping arcade built in the 1840s.

At the end of Lola, three of the characters are on their way to Cherbourg, and one, Roland Cassard (Marc Michel) would reappear in Demy’s Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (1964), which became the middle film of an informal ‘romantic trilogy’ which began with Lola and concluded with Les demoiselles de Rochefort in 1967.

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Mr Bongo: www.mrbongo.com

Film Review: Casanova ’70

Mr Bongo Films
DVD on release

By Guy Sangster Adams

casanova-70-cover
Casanova ’70 is a notable entry in the lineage of Commedia all’italiana, or Italian-style comedy, the genre which its director, Mario Monicelli, initiated with his film, Big Deal on Madonna Street (1958), and which draws its name from Pietro Germi’s film, Divorce Italian Style (1961). The iconic, and always wonderfully watch-able, Marcello Mastroianni, starred in the latter, as he does in Casanova ’70, which was produced by another heavy hitter of Italian cinema, Carlo Ponti.

Mastroianni plays Major Andrea Rossi-Colombotti, an Italian officer on secondment to NATO, and the film follows his picaresque and increasingly desperate attempts to triumph over his idiosyncratic libido that renders him impotent with women unless his life is in danger. Adventures which lead him from Paris to the Swiss Alps, and along the length of Italy, from the cage of a lion tamer, to posing as doctor to verify the virginity, for which read seducing, of a Sicilian bride to be, with her family just the other side of the door, to climbing into ever higher bedroom windows, culminating in his being tried for the murder of the jealous husband of one of his potential conquests. Conquests who all gather in the court and who are played by a fabulous line-up of Italian actresses including Virna Lisi, Marisa Mell, Michèle Mercier, and Liana Orfei.

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The film, which was released in 1965 and earned a nomination for the following year’s Academy Award for Best Writing, Story, and Screenplay, is very much of its time, and all the more enjoyable for that; super stylish and super fun.

Links
Mr Bongo Films: www.mrbongo.com

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Book Review: Members Only The Life and Times of Paul Raymond – Paul Willetts

(Serpent’s Tail) £14.99

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

members-only-cover

In 1949, whilst running a lottery machine on the pier at Clacton-on-Sea, in eastern England, the 24 year old Anthony Quinn met a man working at a nearby funfair who had once been part of a variety mind-reading double act. After paying the man £25 for a trunk full of all the prerequisites of the act, Quinn changed his name to Paul Raymond, employed a female assistant, and took the act on the road as, The Modern Man of Mystery. Though he struggled to find bookings as a mind-reader, his purchase of the act and his name change foretold the career that was to follow for Raymond, in which he demonstrated an high level of prescience in his acquisitions, in judging the zeitgeist, and in always giving, as he maintained, “the public what it wants, not what I think it should have.”

The die was further cast, when in 1951, seeking bookings for a follow up to a successful touring variety show he had produced the year before, having moved to London and moved from performer to producer, Raymond was told by the manager of the Queen’s Park Hippodrome in Manchester, that he would only book the act if  it contained a nude act. Rather than lose the booking, Raymond offered the two tap dancers he had already taken on for the show an
extra ten shillings if they agreed to pose topless.

Seven years later in London’s Soho Raymond opened the Raymond Revuebar, the strip club which, with its ‘Festival of Erotica’, was set to become internationally famous, and over the 45 years (40 of which with Raymond at the helm) it was open its famous neon sign became a London landmark. Fittingly, given Raymond’s first foray into a theatrical career, The Beatles filmed a segment of the Magical Mystery Tour at the Revuebar, and during its heyday the venue attracted a famous and infamous clientele, including Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Peter Sellers, and The Krays.

The success of the Revuebar quickly afforded Raymond the opportunity to not only buy the premises but also other venues, such as theatres, along the way becoming a successful theatrical impresario, and in 1971 in buying and turning around the fortunes of the ailing top shelf magazine, Men Only, adding a highly profitable pornography publishing business to his portfolio of companies. Astutely, throughout his career, Raymond used the lion’s share of his the profits he made to invest in property. Most notably buying up the freeholds to large parts of Soho when very few other people could see the worth of the area. Though his property holdings also spread to commercial properties in Chelsea, Kensington, Notting Hill, and Hampstead. The value of which was underlined three years before his death in 2008, when Forbes magazine listed him at number 13 in their list of British billionaires.

But such a placing only tells of the glitter, and unsurprisingly for a career that a large part of which was based in pushing at the boundaries of what was legal, a career which had nightlife as its epicentre, not only is ‘all human life here’ (as the News of the World advertising slogan used to have it) in Willetts’ fascinating biography, but also quite literally a lifetime of trials and tribulations. Not only as a result of his near constant monitoring in the first few decades of his career firstly by the Clubs Office of the Metropolitan Police, and then by
Obscene Publications Squad (which would itself be the subject of a widespread corruption investigation), but also via libel cases and as the target of an extraordinary extortion campaign. His personal life was similarly riven with complexities, that lead him to be largely estranged from his extended family. Save for his daughter and protégé, Debbie, whose death at the age of only 37
in 1992, engendered him to lead an increasingly reclusive life until his own death at the age of 82.

Through his assiduous research for Members Only, Willetts interviewed friends, relatives, acquaintances, and employees of Raymond, and a number of former Metropolitan police officers, amongst this roster, even now, intriguingly there  are many who would only agree to talk if Willetts undertook to preserve their anonymity. His printed sources also include many documents only just released under the Freedom of Information Act, including witness statements, police files, and the transcripts of telephone taps. All of which he has marshalled to present a very balanced, fascinating and richly evocative insight both into Raymond’s life and the changing face of a notorious square mile of London’s West End which has mirrored the nation’s changing views towards sex and pornography over the last half century.

Links

Serpent’s Tail: www.serpentstail.com

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Book Review: Believe in People – The Essential Karel Capek

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

(Faber and Faber) £12.99

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links

Faber and Faber: www.faber.co.uk

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

(Portobello) £12.99

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

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

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

Sloane Crosley

Sloane Crosley

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

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

Links

Sloane Crosley: neverrockfila.com/crosley/

Portobello Books: www.portobellobooks.com

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

(Sceptre) £14.99

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

wish-you-were-here-cover

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

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

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

Travis Elborough ©David X Green www.davidxgreen.com

Travis Elborough © David X Green www.davidxgreen.com

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

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

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

Links:

Sceptre www.hodder.co.uk/sceptre

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Television Review: The Avengers – The Complete Series 4

avengers-series-4-cover

(Optimum Home Entertainment)
On release

By Guy Sangster Adams

First broadcast between 1965 and 1966, with series 4 The Avengers entered the era for which it is best remembered and which was also its most influential, as
Diana Rigg, in the role of Emma Peel, took over from Honor Blackman’s Dr Cathy Gale, as sidekick to John Steed, played by Patrick Macnee. Emma Peel’s name, so the story goes, came from ABC’s (Associated British Pictures, the programme’s production company) press officer, Marie Donaldson, saying that the character need to have ‘man-appeal’, which became abbreviated to ‘m-appeal’… Emma Peel.

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The crackling sexual tension that had already existed between Steed and Cathy Gale, was ramped up to become far more overt in Steed and Emma Peel’s relationship. Equally the use of leather and PVC costumes, which had been introduced in series 3 for Cathy Gale, particularly for the fight scenes, was continued and became more body conscious and more markedly fetishistic, with zips and buckles. The fetishism was taken even further in the episode, A Touch of Brimstone, when she is dressed as the ‘Queen of Sin’, in a leather corset, knee-length stiletto heeled boots, and a dog collar studded with six inch spikes. All of which played up the vaunted man-appeal of the character, but Emma Peel also, as with Cathy Gale before her, equally and importantly subverted stereotypical roles for women combining not only brains, beauty, and independence, but also physical prowess; she dispatches her male, whip wielding adversary in A Touch of Brimstone in very short measure. Emma Peel became just as much an icon for women as she did for men. Though the dominatrix look proved too much for the American censors, and the episode was banned in the US.

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With her striking op-art clothes designed by fashion designer, John Bates, Emma Peel also became a key fashion influence. Under the label, Avengerswear, Bates also licensed his designs to a number of manufacturers, and they were available in shops around the country from the moment series 4 aired. Bates’ geometric designs were also groundbreaking in that before their use in The Avengers it had been considered they would not work on the film cameras of the day. Both reflecting the times and setting the times, Emma Peel’s Mod style, replete with Lotus Elan and Vespa 150 scooter, juxtaposes pleasingly with the continuance of Steed’s bowler hatted and furled umbrella, dandy-edged, vintage Bentley driving, English gentleman.

Sexy, stylish, witty, and inventive, this first series of the Emma Peel era of The Avengers remains as influential and enjoyable now, extraordinarily 45 years on, as it was first time around.

Links
Optimum: www.optimumreleasing.com

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Single Review: One Born Every Minute – Roses Kings Castles

one-born-every-minute-cover

360 Degree Music
On Release

By Guy Sangster Adams

That Roses Kings Castles’ new single, One Born Every Minute, hooks you immediately with a rhythm section that, like bright sunlight preceding louring storm clouds, mixes the catchiest pop with a darkly alluring rockabilly edge, should come as no surprise, since RKC is the creation of former Babyshambles drummer, Adam Ficek. Though to purely classify Ficek thus is to fail to highlight that he is also a gifted multi-instrumentalist, DJ, and, as his RKC lyrics and his blog show, an erudite writer, all of which One Born Every Minute ably clarifies. Whilst also demolishing any generic stereotyping of drummers! The tabloid outplaying of Pete Doherty’s life sometimes threatens to occlude the fact that his musical collaborators have been as talented as they are.

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Ficek began RKC as a side project in 2007 as a way to release the songs he was writing during the long periods on the road whilst on tour with Babyshambles. The extraordinary journey, in all senses, that he went on both within and without Babyshambles has also inspired One Born Every Minute, as he says, “the song is mainly based around the characters I have met over the past few years in this crazed whirlpool of an industry. It takes all sorts…. some nicer than others.”  Through Ficek’s vocals, which pleasingly mix shades of Deram period Bowie via Anthony Newley with a rawer modernity, One Born Every Minute presents snapshots of the knife-edge of success and hype, the steep drops that lie either side, and the people that all too often gather around someone whose life is lived in the public eye, when they are at their most vulnerable.

All things are possible with One Born Every Minute. One can choose to project upon its lyrical allusions, to unravel who might be who, or one can choose to be swept up in its rhythmical and melodic insistency, or like all the best singles one can choose both. Choose the latter, and just as the best singles always do, the joyousness of One Born Every Minute will propel you into feeling that all things really are possible.

Links

Adam Ficek: www.adamficek.com

360 Degree Music: www.360degreemusic.com

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Film Review: Wild Target (Cible émouvante)

Second Sight Films
DVD On release

By Guy Sangster Adams

wildtarget-cover
“I shall be severe, but show affection occasionally,” says fifty-something, professional hitman, Victor Meynard (Jean Rochefort), outlining the terms of the ‘stage’, or internship, he offers to an artless, young messenger, Antoine (Guillaume Depardieu), rather than killing him, after Antoine inadvertently witnesses one of Victor’s hits. Motivated by the fact that is unmarried, and has no heir to whom he can pass on the family business of killing, the perks Victor offers as part of his proposal to train Antoine in the ways of assassination include a Carte Orange (the unlimited travel pass for Paris, which has just been replaced by the ‘Navigo’).

But it seems that Victor’s midlife crisis is gathering pace when he not only fails to carry out his next assignment, to kill a beautiful art forger and petty thief, Renée Dandrieux (Marie Trintignant), who has duped a gangster into buying a fake Rembrandt, but also begins to fall for her, as the seemingly ill-assorted trio go on the run from the gangster.

Wild Target (Cible émouvante) is a masterful black comedy, with a wonderful mix of impressively realised knock about farce, subtle comedic moments, and a gripping thread of menace, which earned its writer and director, Pierre Salvadori, a César nomination for Best First Work, when it was originally released in 1993. Rochefort’s performance is superlative, indeed all three lead actors give superb performances, and the crackling interplay between them, and also with Madame Meynard (Patachou), Victor’s gloriously batty and utterly ruthless mother, creates a thoroughly enjoyable film.

Both the now octogenarian Rochefort, whose career spans five decades, and nonagenarian Patachou (aka Henriette Ragon), are and continue to be much loved and legendary figures of French cinema and theatre. Trintignant and Depardieu, both born into famous French acting families, became favourite actors for Salvadori to work with, taking roles both in his next film, Les apprentis (1995), and again sharing the lead roles in White Lies (Comme elle respire, 1998). Very sadly, both subsequently died at an early age. Trintignant died in 2003, aged 41, of a cerebral edema as a result of being punched by her boyfriend Bertrand Cantat, lead singer with the French rock group, Noir Désir, and  Depardieu died in 2008, aged 37, after contracting severe viral pneumonia whilst filming L’Enfance d’Icare on location in Romania.

A British remake of Wild Target, starring Bill Nighy, Emily Blunt, and Rupert Grint has just been released.

Links
Second Sight Films www.secondsightfilms.co.uk

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Book Review: Repeat it Today with Tears – Anne Peile

(Serpent’s Tail) £10.99

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

repeat-it-today-with-tears

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Serpent’s Tail: www.serpentstail.com

Single Review: War is Noise – Jaakko & Jay

jaakko-jay-cover

Xtra Mile Recordings
Released 24th May 2010

By Guy Sangster Adams

“Critics,” announces an answerphone message at the beginning of War is Noise, “you probably got this album for free, so please don’t trouble yourself with clever analysis, music is for listening to, not writing about, so why don’t you cut your hair and go and get a real job.” I did receive the album for free and although I am quite attached to both my hair and job, in the spirit of compromise that is abroad I will respond rather than analysing, whilst also heartily exhorting that you both listen to Jaakko & Jay’s debut album and also go see them live.

The Finnish duo, like their label mate, Frank Turner, for whom they have also been a support act, have maintained a near constant tour schedule, playing live with one microphone, an acoustic guitar, and a single snare and ride drum. The vitality and exuberance of their stripped back live sound has translated exceptionally well to the record, aided and abetted by harmonica, banjo, trumpet, and fiddle, to create fourteen punk folk tracks, underscored with an insistent and infectious rockabilly edge that propels you to your feet, whether you are dancing to save the world, to free your soul, or just because it’s a fantastic beat. Fuelled with shouts and harmonies, rattling riffs and drifting melodies, humour and insightfulness, through songs that protest, satirise, and wear their hearts on their sleeves, War is Noise leaves you in an excited spin, with a broad smile on your face, energised and wanting to engage (or reengage…) with life!

Links:

Jaakko & Jay: www.myspace/jaakkonjay

Xtra Mile Recordings: www.xtramilerecordings.com

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Album Review: Beachcomber’s Windowsill – Stornoway

stornowayalbum-packshot

(4AD)
Released 24th May 2010

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

Despite their name, Stornoway came together not on the islands of the Outer Hebrides but in Oxford. Though it was a shared passion for the Scottish band, Teenage Fanclub, that united founder members, singer and principal song writer Brian Briggs and multi-instrumentalist Jonathan Ouin, during Freshers’ Week at the university. In common with Teenage Fanclub, vocal harmonies, guitar, string, brass, and organ sections which reference 1960’s folk-, surf-, and psychedelic rock/pop, such as The Byrds, Beach Boys, and Love, abound on Stornoway’s debut album, Beachcomber’s Windowsill. Five years in the making, the album and the re-released first single, Zorbing, coincidentally share release dates with Teenage Fanclub’s first new album and single in five years.

But interwoven with their acute pop sensibilities, the songs on Beachcomber’s Windowsill are also imbued with sounds and images that evoke both the historical and the elemental. The layers of history and tradition set against the beauty of Oxford’s cityscape, seen at first light or under moonlight, echo through the inspirational mix, with the use of traditional instruments, bell chimes, and choral singing; an essence of Magdalen College Choir continuing their 500 year old tradition of singing in the dawn from the top of Magdalen Tower on May Morning. Though Stornoway also channel folk song traditions that have their feet more firmly on the ground, or on the deck, with both elements of Bluegrass and sea-shanties layered into a number of the tracks. It must be added that the band are also not averse to creating new instruments to supplant the traditional, such as turning carrot chopping into percussion.

stornoway-1

The elements course through the album’s lyrics, but not unlike an Hebridean island the force of storms and tornados can abate almost as soon as they’ve begun, leaving sunlit or starlit stillness and reflection in their wake. Beachcomber’s Windowsill’s tumult is love, and all the vistas through which a heart may be swept by passion and love requited, unrequited, lost, and tenderly remembered. From “zorbing [rolling along in a transparent plastic orb] through the streets of Cowley” in the single of the same name, to anthropomorphizing into a seabird in The Coldharbour Road, via an heartfelt exhortation to disengage people from a life of screens and return them to “free range” on We are the Battery Human, it’s a fantastic, surprising, and beautiful journey through an album that is an enchanted island in a sea that is all too often awash with mediocrity.

Links:
Stornoway: www.stornoway.eu

4AD: www.4ad.com

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