Wednesday, 26 October 2016

2016 Reading Part Four

Blimey! Just 51 days after finishing the previous batch and writing Part Three and I've got through another six books. This is a bit more like it! So what are we waiting for? Here goes...

The 14th book about Cambridge University's physician of the 14th century, Matthew Bartholomew. After the last book in which an unscrupulous quack doctor claimed to be a magician, in The Devil's Disciples Matthew and his friend, the university's portly Senior Proctor, Brother Michael are faced with the threat of witches, warlocks and covens all convinced that Satan is about to reveal himself. At the time of the tale, a few years after the first visit of the plague to England, people saw it as the visitation of God's wrath and because the clergy were not spared this, many of the population looked away from the Church in the hope of spiritual protection. The threat to Matt and Michael and the university and town are very real and unless our two scholars can uncover the truth, they may find themselves silenced forever. Fourteen books in, I would not still be reading this series unless it were very good. Susanna Gregory has produced yet another nail-biting page-turner here!

This came out of the blue - it was one of those cheap offers for the Kindle and I downloaded it without ever having heard of the author, Genevieve Cogman. But what a fabulously riveting and ingenious story it turned out to be. It's one of those multi-dimensional sword and sorcery plus fantastic creatures fantasies. There's lots of action, some hilarious but thoroughly logical developments and any fans of comedy fantasy, say of the Tom Holt or Terry Pratchett kind (more of these later...) would love it.

In the previous article detailing my reading habits I reviewed a book by a friend. This one is the autobiography of someone who I feel may well turn into a friend. I received an email several months ago from John Featherstone asking for permission to use a couple of my photos on the cover of his book. We chatted a bit and then met up and in due course his book Pushing Treacle Uphill came out. The title is the sort of thing your Granny would come out with if you were brought up in Lancashire. It refers to things being done the hard way, not necessarily because there isn't an easier way. This covers John's life, brought up originally in Heywood (where I myself went to school) and then moving to Blackpool (where I moved myself on getting married). His story takes in time spent in the police force as a motorbike officer - a role that he took a stage further with a career move into the motorcycle sales world. This is a story full of warmth, humour and humility, not always without problems. A believable and enjoyable life story. There are a couple of episodes I particularly enjoyed and the book is very well written. I didn't just read it I shared some of those experiences. If you like biographies then this is a well put-together book with a few appearances by some famous names too.

I'm sure I've not read these in the right order, but this is another Terry Pratchett Discworld novel about The Night Watch, Ankh-Morpork's after dark police force. The Watch contains humans, dwarfs, trolls and a werewolf, but now it's up against some pesky clay golems as well... They shouldn't be able to kill people but...

The fifth book about defrocked Italian cleric, heretic and philosopher, Giordano Bruno by S. J. Parris sees our troubled hero in Paris in trouble with both the Queen Mother, the redoubtable Catherine Medici and the Duke of Guise and his Catholic League, whilst tasked by both the Duke and King Henri III with investigating the death of an old friend and priest. With twists and turns and a spell in a dark oubliette (dungeon with the door in the ceiling) and the glamourous, tempting and murderous spies of Catherine Medici to contend with, this had me up into the early hours on a couple of occasions!

I've stayed clear of the multi-dimensional books of Tom Holt this time and instead this is the tale of interstellar intrigue and would-be planet destruction. Unfortunately it's Earth that is the target and the antagonists are a planet of intelligent dogs who keep humans as pets. All would be well, except that the intelligent planet-busting bomb that they sent seems to have become self aware and gone to ground. Without a bang... Very funny and works up to a great ending too.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Music I Love - 'F'

We come to the sixth letter of the alphabet and as always I have had to think carefully about who to leave out. Sadly George Formby will not therefore be making an appearance... ("Yah! Never touched me!" - George)

We'll start with folkies Fairport Convention and in particular, this album which was one of a tiny few that got played over and over again in the Sixth Form common room when I was a mere stripling at Heywood Senior High. Half the population of England have been members of this group at one time or other and I still enjoy listening to them. (I can't stand the rubbish the other half churn out though...)

Adam Faith was one of the voices of my early childhood. We didn't have any of his records then, but I have several of them now. A highlight of the year was watching the NME Musical Awards show on TV in the early 1960s. Grainy images, music obscured by the screams of girls in the audience and a pre-teen me, thinking how much I wanted to be up there on that stage...

Whilst everyone thinks of Pop music whenever the 1960s are mentioned, there was an absolute explosion of Easy Listening music that came out not only on LP albums but as singles too. Percy Faith's classic Theme From A Summer Place is the ultimate in a warm lustrous mix of orchestral instrumentation. It's buzzing round in my head now, just by writing about it.

The deep husky voice of Marianne Faithfull was almost a direct descendant of that of 1940s screen siren Lauren Bacall. As Tears Go By was the big hit with Come And Stay With Me and the cracking but quite short This Little Bird following it. She was discovered at a Rolling Stones party, became Mick Jagger's girlfriend for four years or so and branched out into acting as well as singing. She will be 70 in December. It has been anything but an easy life through the years.

The girl group Fanny was one of a handful of girl rock bands to emerge in the USA in the early 1970s. Filipino-American sisters June and Jean Millington played guitar and bass respectively. Nickey Barclay played keyboards and Alice de Buhr was on the drums. The name Fanny was meant to imply a female spirit (in America even the slang word "fanny" does not mean the same as it does in the UK). The 1972 album Fanny Hill included the singles Ain't That Peculiar and Blind Alley which were my own main reasons for buying it. It also contains a good cover of The Beatles song Hey Bulldog. They toured the UK several times supporting Slade and Jethro Tull to name just two. June Millington left the band and was replaced by Suzi Quatro's sister, Patti Quatro.

Let's divert over to my 78 rpm collection for a moment. Ella Fitzgerald is represented in it on a couple of records.

One of them is sublime in my book. Manhattan with the flip side being Every Time We Say Goodbye is just a treat for the ears. If your ears are in need of a treat, just have a listen to this. If you haven't got it and can't find it online then have your tea at Frankie and Bennies - it's bound to come on sooner or later!

Fleetwood Mac. I'm going to include a couple of albums because they transformed into a very different group after their first success. Their first Greatest Hits album from the Peter Green era has such wonderful hits as Albatross, Man Of The World, The Green Manalishi (don't you just hate the green ones...) Need Your Love So Bad and Black Magic Woman.

Then Peter Green left and in came Lyndsey Buckingham and the distinctive voice of Stevie Nicks. Somehow I missed buying Rumours but bought this one from 1987 - Tango In The Night which hit the No.1 slot no less than three times over the course of twelve months. Some great tracks on this one and it was the first album I bought on CD rather than on vinyl.

Moving Waves was the second album from the Dutch progressive rock band Focus. The single Hocus Pocus was a series of fast fuzzed chords interspersed with riffs from a flute, whistling, yodelling and high-pitched wordless singing. It sounds better through speakers than it does in text...

This is featured here for The Four Seasons, rather than Frankie Valli who would rightly come under 'V'. The Jersey Boys have recently undergone a resurgence in popularity thanks to a film and stage musical and richly deserve it. It will however be a while before you catch me including high-pitched falsetto hits such as Sherry, Big Girls Don't Cry and Walk Like A Man amongst the songs I play on stage with Creeping Bentgrass...

Back to the 78 rpm collection for Connie Francis, though her biggest hit for me - Lipstick On Your Collar - I have on both 78 rpm and 45 vinyl. Stupid Cupid was coupled with Carolina Moon as a double A side, Carolina Moon being about the only song I remember my Grandma playing on the piano that I actually enjoyed listening to. The rest of her (my Grandma, not Connie Francis) repertoire seemed to be either hymns or hits from Rodgers and Hammerstein...

I don't have this record I have to admit. In fact I had no Billy Fury records at all during his lifetime. I mentioned on my website way back before this blog started in 2007 that we were introducing Halfway To Paradise into our act and I got a missive from super-fan Moya Gleave who was a close friend of Billy's and who ran the Manchester-based fan club and who now runs the Billy Fury Fan Club of New Zealand from her home where she lives upside down. She gave me a severe talking to when we passed the letter 'B', but here is his rightful place! It's a wonder to me that he never reached the coveted No.1 spot, but he came close to it a couple of times, Jealousy hitting No.2 and Halfway To Paradise was one of three that reached No.3. Billy had more Top Ten hits during the 1960s than The Beatles did... And before they became famous they once auditioned to be his backing group.

One of Billy Fury's releases that I do have! He was born Ronald Wycherley in Liverpool in 1940 and contracted rheumatic fever as a child which contributed to a tragically early death in 1983. Despite this, he still has a hugely committed and faithful following and several excellent artists doing tribute shows in theatres all round the country. Because of Moya Gleave's email message all those years ago I've had the pleasure of meeting many of those fans, becoming friends with lots of them, playing alongside many of the artists and meeting and playing in front of Billy's mother, Mrs Jean Wycherley, who in her 90s, still sings herself at any "Billy Do" she attends. Moya - I luv ya, but no, Billy will not be appearing again under 'R' or 'W'... x

Fuzzbox - or more properly, We've Got A Fuzzbox And We're Gonna Use It were another all-female band this time from the mid 1980s. Big Bang! was their third album and was something of a transformation album from rock to dance pop. It included two top twenty singles in the form of Pink Sunshine and International Rescue. Guitarist Jo Dunne sadly died shortly after being diagnosed with cancer, aged just 43 in 2012.

Well you may not have been mentioned other than briefly, George Formby, but it did "turn out nice again"...

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Film Review, January 1979 Issue

Once again we are head down, collar up and trying to sound gruff-voiced as we enter the 1970s cinema. No, not because we are imitating James Bond... We are not yet 18 and we are trying to sneak into an X-rated Hammer Horror film!

Another year rolls by and now we enter the very last year of the 1970s as the January 1979 subscription issue of our favourite magazine falls through the letterbox. There's a man with a cape on the front...

On the inside front cover is a photo of the new Miss Cinema 1979. Janet Withey is her name.

She won the title in October 1978 and was given a cash prize and a week's holiday in Cyprus, being handed her cheque for the prize money by Peter Gilmore then appearing in the original series of Poldark on the telly.

Only a month earlier I had taken a number of photographs of her in her other role as the current Miss Blackpool when she was special guest at an open night for the firm I worked for.. Small world!

On the Contents page was a shot of Goldie Hawn, whose latest film, Foul Play, would soon be on general release.

We've had alcohol galore and cigarettes too numerous to sneeze - or cough - at, but I can't remember an advert for a jewellers before. The craze for wearing a slab of gold with an oversized hallmark was all the rage at the time. Rich people stooped under the weight of them. People like me hoped they wouldn't fold up unexpectedly in the wind... I wonder how many of them lie forgotten in drawers...

There's a two page article on the new film Force 10 From Navarone, the book written as a follow-up to the earlier The Guns of Navarone by Alistair MacLean. Robert Shaw, Harrison Ford and Edward Fox play the good guys who have to blow up a bridge in Yugoslavia.

"Take a right, Clyde...". An orang utan is Clint Eastwood's partner in Every Which Way But Loose, an amiable tale of a bare-knuckle prize fighter who takes on other pugilists, cops with a grudge, a motorcycle gang and Sondra Locke as his love interest - the interest being mostly on his side...

Meanwhile, just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water...

They killed the shark at the end of Jaws, therefore for Jaws 2 it's a new shark at least as big as the last. Drawn to the seaside resort of Amity just as the last one was because of the lax attitude of the town's officials and a tasty selection of teens to chomp on, the new shark thinks life will be easy. But it's due for a shock...

A brief return to Yugoslavia as Quint - oh no... that was the first Jaws... - blows up the bridge... wait... no it's a dam... Oh for Heaven's sake...

It's Miss World! Actually it's Danish actress and singer, Ina Skriver, who was asked to change her name to Christina World so that the film makers of The Golden Lady, a James Bond spoof, could say their star was "Miss World". On her team are June Chadwick, Anika Pavel and Suzanne Danielle currently "carrying on" as Emmannuelle.

A brief return to Amity for a poster advertising the release of Jaws 2... Erm.. excuse me editor chappie - are you going to keep doing this in this issue?

On the centre spread is a 1979 calendar adorned with photos of this mild-mannered newspaper reporter - sorry son, you'll never hack being a reporter if you're mild-mannered - and his alter ego, the Man of Steel himself. Good grief! It's Superman.

DC Comics rubbish of course - when will they get round to some decent Marvel Comics films? Oh yes... there was one of the Von Trapp singers playing Spider-Man the other year, but no, I mean a decent Marvel film... The flying scenes were state of the art stuff for their time.

Three pages are devoted to films due for release in 1979. Many I remember. Many of them I actually went to see. Some of them were blooming awful and some were brilliant and we'll catch up with them in the coming issues. Meanwhile just as the fuss of Saturday Night Fever and Grease was dying down here someone brings out a book with over 100 photos of John Travolta for a mere 95 pence. Actually that sounds a lot cheaper now than it did back at the beginning of 1979 but still...

I don't think I've featured the regular article Track Events much in this series, but stunning news (even if text only - I had to go Googling for the pic). Ginger Rogers, whilst singing her little heart out in many of her films (in addition to some very fancy footwork with Fred and a few others) was not one of those stars who combined acting and dancing in films with recording records. In order to put that right, she has recorded a new album during 1978 and here it is. Included on the album are a couple of songs that she sang on film well over forty years ago. If you've never seen Ginger dance in glorious black and white - shame on you! Go and find a few films and marvel at how gorgeous and brilliant she was!

Next time...... February...

Friday, 14 October 2016

Attic Foray No.1

For some time I've been thinking I should empty the attic whilst I'm fit enough to climb up there. (Fit? You call this fit??? - Yup! Like a butcher's dog...) So seeing as how the pile of stuff up there lifts the roof tiles on warm days when it expands, there could be several forays needed and thus "No.1"...

Now admittedly I didn't spend an awful lot of time up there today and in fact only my top half made it through the trapdoor. This, I hasten to add, was because there was stuff close to hand near the trap door. Not because the bottom half would not fit through! Anyway, the first item to hand was a 45 rpm extended play (E.P.) record.

Released in 1959 this has Enid Blyton herself telling the story whilst Denis Bryer and Cyril Shaps provide voices and songs with backing from no less a personage as Ron Goodwin and His Concert Orchestra. He recorded several albums under Columbia's Studio 2 Stereo label during the 1950s and 60s, being particularly famous for film theme music. He also had several single releases.

A set of Marvel Comics came to hand and turned out to be the complete set of the film adaptation of Robocop 2.

Forgetting for a moment the actual lead character, the rest of the premise - greedy corporations taking over politics and the running of all hitherto publicly-funded services - is eerily starting to become familiar.

Marvel Comics published quite a few film adaptations over the years. I have a two-part adaptation of The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, though sadly the character of Margiana looks nothing like Caroline Munro who played her. The Robocop 2 comics were published August-September 1990.

State of the art graphics for computer games 27 years ago were not quite the bee's knees... This advert was on the back cover of one of the above comics.

This was what I'd actually gone up looking for. My binder of all twelve issues of Film Review magazine from 1979. Whilst up there I replaced my copy of the 1978 binder, forgetting perhaps that the idea is to empty the attic...

So afficionados of my Film Review... er... reviews... can rest assured that the next set of articles will commence sixth or seventh with, if not exactly forthwith!

I also found this binder, which is labelled Practical Photography 1980. Oh, how I wish it still held those magazines. Sometime, probably towards the middle of the 1990s I stupidly (this is what comes of deciding to do things like empty attics...) threw them away. I had loads of them. I did scan the covers of the year 1985, but at the time scanners were not that brilliant, screen resolutions were laughably small and my scans are a mere 227x325 pixels, some of them a mess of contrast and density. I might relent and let you have a look though...

There's definitely a bit of a theme to those covers that you wouldn't find today. If I've offended anyone with these images, then please crawl back into your tiny mind and feel free not to come here to be offended again. I'll try my best not to miss you.

And instead of all those wonderful magazines that contained such good advice about taking photos of all manner of subjects, not just portraits and glamour, I find a set of magazines BBC Homes & Antiques. Can't wait... Fran, why did we buy these...?

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