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Philip S. Walker

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True at First Light
True at First Light
by Ernest Hemingway
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars How on Earth did I get through this? (Pt. 2), 12 Aug. 2010
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: True at First Light (Hardcover)
The way Ernest Hemingway sometimes wrote from the start he would keep very close to own experiences and only later on change circumstances, develop a literary plot, blur actual characters etc. In other words, to find a draft of his can be confusing to a point where you wonder if you're reading a diary or a fictional work. "True at first" light, though edited (which in this case must mainly mean shortened) by his son, is such a strange creature, but once you know and accept that you can sit back an enjoy this unusual look into the literary laboratory of a true genius.

So to answer my own query that was how I got through it. However, had I taken it as a real, finished novel I would have had a very hard time, and in fact I have to admit that my concentration was beginning to slip somewhat towards the end.

Incidentally, many have wondered at the female main character's tolerance towards her husband's infidelity. It think it's pretty much hinted towards the end that she is no virgin Mary and perhaps to allow herself certain escapades she let's him get away with it, too.

The sad thing is, of course, that if the author hadn't "taken the hemingway out" he would have had raw material enough in this draft for several fully finished novels with perhaps a few splendid short stories thrown in, no extra charge.

Land Not Theirs
Land Not Theirs
by David Marcus
Edition: Paperback

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars How on Earth did I get through this? (Pt. 1), 12 Aug. 2010
This review is from: Land Not Theirs (Paperback)
A collective novel taking place in Ireland in 1920 and centered, mainly, on the small Jewish community in Cork City. Told in solid, well-composed sentences, but also dry and unexciting in tone. Characters are superficially described and hence hard to remember and tell apart. Many irrelevant discourses back in time and other types of filler. In the style of the American "Greyhound novel", the book is heavily researched and spends more time reeling off factual information (abundantly garnished, of course, with Yiddish nouns) than with telling its story or making its characters come even remotely alive. Overall, it is a thinly veiled political attempt to make Irish people sympathetic to the State of Israel by endlessly pointing out claimed similarities in history and fate, ignoring obvious all-important differences (such as the fact that the Irish claim for independence didn't include rounding up another entire nation, steeling their land from them and putting them in refugee camps for decades on end, defending such behaviour as a "biblical right"). Overall the storyline is poorly structured, inconsistent and muddled. Apparently, the novel was a best-seller in its day, but so are most books by Catherine Cookson and to think that this 480 page long drivel is supposedly written by a well-respected Irish author and prominent literary figure is something I find very disheartening.

I suppose on this background two stars seem like a lot, but there are certainly worse books out there, including a few prize-winners and other best-sellers, so I'll reserve the single star for them.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 13, 2011 12:32 AM GMT

The Boat That Rocked [DVD] (2009)
The Boat That Rocked [DVD] (2009)
Dvd ~ Philip Seymour Hoffman
Offered by 247dvd
Price: £3.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Out to sea, 22 July 2010
I will take this movie as a parody on how we view the 1960s today, with the dubious benefit of hindsight that automatically makes idiots of all authorities and the older generation and mixes it with anachronisms galore.

It is, indeed, true that BBC Radio by 1966, when this film begins, was playing very little of the kind of music we now describe as "rock". That left a market open to pirate radio stations basing their economy on advertisers. The British government, believing at the time that radio broadcasting should be non-commercial and purely based on quality, looked for ways to shut down these pirate stations, which not only played music but also commercials of the most stupid and annoying kind and probably didn't pay the musicians the royalties they should.

Also, it is only fair to say that after having managed to shut down the pirate stations, the BBC learned from their mistakes. It employed many of the DJs who had previous been working for the pirate stations and turned into the most wonderful, non-commercial, exciting and cutting-edge presenter of modern music in the world. It has stayed that way ever since.

But such a story wouldn't make much of a film, would it? Neither would conscious grown-ups being genuinely worried that their teenage daughters become pregnant or infected with sexually transmitted diseases. No, in the world of film we want colour on the screen but black and white morality, and what could be a better subject matter then than the mid-1960s?

Lets get a bunch of popular actors in and make them play some role they played a several times before ... and then let the anachronisms begin. I'll list but a few of them.

1. The term "rock" and "rock and roll" runs through this film from its title onwards, but in fact nothing could be more unfashionable in mid-Sixties Britain than subscribing to this term, then only associated with the 1950s, greasy rockers, etc. Instead, youngsters would be into R&B, Soul, Modern Jazz, Motown, Blue Beat, Beat Music, Mersey Beat etc. Or simply pop music. But never, ever "rock and roll", and most certainly not the abbreviation "rock", which only came into use during the late 1980s, later to be flogged ad nausiam by Jack Black. Another term belonging to the 1980s is "vinyl" used for LPs and singles.

2. Loosely knitted hippie vests were not yet invented in 1966. You're at least half a decade off the mark there. Likewise, shoulder long hair and shaggy beards were not a feature for any men other than genuine tramps until very late in the 1960s. No girl would openly declare herself a lesbian to complete strangers, and if she did they would have a stroke on the spot. Men didn't talk openly to each other about their emotions, lack of sex life etc., and that's putting it mildly.

3. About half of the songs played in this movie had not been recorded or released by the time the plot unravels. No wonder the film makers have omitted the dates of issue on the soundtrack credits.

4. About half of the records played in this movie display label designs from subsequent decades. Likewise, LP covers are nearly all reissues, displaying none of the characteristics of the period. It's actually dubious that these stations would play many albums at all, and certainly not in the modern CD stereo sound we get here.

5. Pirate radio station DJs in the 1960s weren't generally middle-aged, flabby, grey-bearded men. However, such people are the most likely to watch this movie, so I'm sure they're grateful for being given the impression that they are walking sex symbols constantly hunted by silly, giggling teenage dolly birds wanting nothing more than having casual sex with them under crammed, smelly conditions on board a rusty old fishing boat in the middle of the North Sea.

Finally, I have to say that the acting, camerawork etc. is very good indeed. While nothing here makes you scream with laughter, there is a general humour running through it all which I like. However, with its pretty adolescent obsession with sexual issues and general lack of some major concept idea, this would have been much better suited for a TV sitcom than a feature film.

Man in a Suitcase 8 DVD Boxset [1967]
Man in a Suitcase 8 DVD Boxset [1967]
Dvd ~ Richard Bradford
Offered by DaaVeeDee-uk
Price: £34.90

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A small suitcase full of goods, 26 Mar. 2010
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I read a review in a magazine, which gave me the totally wrong expectations for this box set. Mainly, it tried to make out that this series had been considerably more quirky and surreal than it is, somewhat in the vein of that other famous TV series from around the same time called "The Prisoner".

Recently, however, I watched the whole series though again, now knowing better what to expect. This is much more down-to-earth 1960s television, though there are some surreal moments. Generally, the first few episodes have weak scripts, but then it picks up, until the end where the standard sinks again considerably.

Apart from that, the acting is good, in fact the main man Richard Bradford is completely outstanding. A much, much underrated actor. He himself complains in an extras interview that the series didn't reach its potential, but still it is head an shoulders above common standard for this kind of thing.

This was clearly an expensive project, filmed in colour, good camera work, and a very, very good transfer to DVD. The whole box set is put together with great love and care, simply the best I've ever seen of its kind.

Watch it for what it is and enjoy.

Max Manus - Man Of War [DVD]
Max Manus - Man Of War [DVD]
Dvd ~ Aksel Hennie
Offered by b68solutions
Price: £1.99

4 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not so Mad Max, 20 Mar. 2010
This review is from: Max Manus - Man Of War [DVD] (DVD)
Like most other European nations that were occupied by the Germans during WWII, the Norwegians have been traumatised by the experience practically ever since. That is no wonder, since what happened in these countries often had character of a civil war, with some people setting up underground resistance movements and others assisting the Germans in trying to hinder their activities. You would think there's material here for some great films dealing with these ultra sensitive issues. Unfortunately, they don't seem to emerge, and certainly not in this case.

Instead, this is a completely traditional film tribute to a well-known spearhead of the Norwegian resistance movement, Max Manus. In many ways it might as well have been a statue or a coffee table book, since it does very little to go into the more complex aspects of what is probably, at least in some ways, the nastiest form of war there is. Also, Manus' traumatic childhood and youth are only hinted at, and no moral issues are dealt with when he starts courting a married woman with children. There is a lot of talk about Manus' time as a volunteer in Finland during the Winter War, but no mentioning at all of the ambiguous feeling our hero must have had about this two years later when he is fighting the Germans in Norway and Finland has joined the Germany army in their invasion of Russia.

The structure is a typical Hollywood three-acter (1. You chase a man up in a tree. 2. You shake a stick at him. 3. You get the man down from the tree) portraying clean-cut, heroic Norwegian lovers of King and country fighting nasty Nazis. The acting is in parts pretty good, but generally as wooden and skin-deep as you would expect with this kind of manuscript. The story-line is partly over-simplified and partly marred by the inclusion of irrelevant threads, some of the action scenes I simply refuse to believe can be correctly presented (particularly the sabotage of the German warship Donau), the strange out-of-proportion digital effects will be laughed at in ten years time (as we now laugh at those from ten years ago), but worst of all the physical environment is completely unrepresentative of those times. We are talking about the 1940s in an occupied country under heavy rationing. Things were dirty, scruffy, chipped, clothes were worn to shreds, and people couldn't wash so they stank and had bad teeth, yet everything in this film is so super cleansed it could be Disneyland.

By far the strongest scenes are the main character's brief flashbacks to his participation on the Finnish side in the Winter War. Not only are these scenes much more authentic, they also expose him as a far more complex human being than the rest of the movie. Most notably, when his sub-machine gun develops a fault he follows some poor, scared to death Russian conscript on foot through the snow, attacks him and kills him with his knife. Since this happens on the Finnish front it's hardly an act in honour of good old Norway and its king; however, this significant side of Manus' character isn't really dealt with otherwise in the movie. If he really is the killer type the title wants us to believe, he doesn't show it very much.

Talking of misleading the public, I agree with others that the attempts to sell this film as an action packed war movie are pretty deplorable. The picture on the box shows our not so mad Max dressed in white Finnish camouflage, yet the scenes in Finland hardly take up one percent of the film. The trailer for the film is equally way off the mark, trying to give the impression that this is an English speaking movie. It isn't, but to say that the actors speak Norwegian wouldn't be telling the truth either. Except for one or two all they do is mumble incomprehensively. That, of course, is a current trend in most films and is claimed to be realistic, yet it is most certainly not how the beautiful Norwegian language was spoken in the 1940s. Funnily enough, in the extras documentary they all speak much more clearly - so much for the realism of muttering.

I give this film three stars because, all technical criticism aside, you have to honour the people who freed the world of the Nazis, and because the extra material - or at least the bits that work as a documentary on Manus' life - are well worth watching. However, if you want a truer and more thought-provoking image of the Nordic countries during WWII you're better off with the Danish film 'Flame and Citron'.

Still, the real treat awaits those who look further East, to Finland. The movie simply titled 'The Winter War' is like the best two minutes of 'Max Manus - Man of War' stretched into three and a half hour, and even better is 'The Unknown Soldier' (the 1985 version), a pure work of genius.
Comment Comments (8) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 29, 2010 5:39 PM BST

The Unknown Soldier (1985) ( Tuntematon sotilas )
The Unknown Soldier (1985) ( Tuntematon sotilas )
Dvd ~ Pirkka-Pekka Petelius
Offered by DaaVeeDee-uk
Price: £17.65

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In a Place far from Hollywood, 17 Mar. 2010
This truly magnificent film takes place on the Russian-Finnish battlefront 1941-44, during what is historically known as the Continuation War. Wikipedia has a pretty good resume of this strange chapter in WWII, albeit perhaps a little too kind towards the Finns and their motives for fighting alongside Nazi-Germany against Russia. However, to understand this movie it is well worth consulting Wikipedia first.

The name of the war itself is a cunning bit of propaganda manipulation, aimed at isolating it from the rest of WWII and giving the impression that it was a logical continuation of the Winter War (1939-40), in which Finland had struggled alone to withstand massive Russian attacks. This war had gained almost full support among the Finnish population and a vast amount of international sympathy. However, the Finnish participation in the German attacks on Russia from July 1941 onwards was more than just an attempt to win back the territories lost in the Winter War. Influential extreme right-wing groups in Finland were dreaming of colonising parts of Russia, for which they claimed that Finland had a historical right (and possibly more than that, too). It is the philosophy behind this movie that these political forces within parts of the Finnish upper-class and among professional officers lead the nation into this war, which resulted in both severe casualties for the Finns as well as developed a national trauma due to the country's very active support of Nazi-Germany, a completely unsuitable situation for a modern, democratic Nordic state.

The film is built on a novel of the same name, published first in the mid-1950s by the Finnish writer Väinö Linna, a kind of literary equivalent of Jean Sibelius. It is an extremely multi-facetted book that can be read in several ways. While it makes no attempts to hide the horrors of war, it also has a strong humorous side. The novel var first made into a film a couple of years after its initial publication and this early version very much drew on the humorous aspect. It doesn't seem quite in line with the author's overall political intentions, and certainly this more current film (from 1985) goes much deeper into what the war was really all about - and well beyond. It is directed by Rauni Mollberg, a internationally highly acclaimed Finnish film director, and in many aspects it precedes the wave of American war films we have seen in later years, using close-up hand held camera technique and extremely realistic scenery. However, compared to even the better among the more modern attempts, such as the television series 'Band of Brothers', this movie is considerably less self-glorifying (comparing it with 'Platoon' would be more appropriate in this respect, while the grainy quality and the natural light brings 'Tigerland' to mind - it has indeed been suggested that the makers of these subsequent movies have been watching 'The Unknown Soldier' very closely). In fact, every single minute in this film is earth-shatteringly relevant and 'true' in a hemingway-esque meaning of the word. The acting is so outrageously good it almost hurts to watch, and if you want to focus on the battle scenes it is obvious that these actors are not a bunch of multi-millionaire Hollywood film stars who have been through a two week boot camp - they have done their full National Service, as you have to in Finland, and they know what it is truly like to be a grunt.

The story follows two machine-gun groups in the Finnish army and their platoon leader Koskela, a veteran from the Winter War. During attacks the groups are generally used to back one regular infantry platoon in particular, lead by a young Lieutenant Kariluoto. Much of the film is based around these characters as well as corporals Letho and Hietanen. It also delves quite deep into the relationship between the latter and a private called Rahikainen. Equally important is Rokka, a recalled reservist with a personal reason for disliking the Russians and a unique ability to get up his superiors' noses. (Finnish names tend to look more peculiar than they really are. The Finnish "nen" at the end of sir names is the equivalent of the English "son", and words are always pronounced with very soft consonants and emphasis on first syllable.)

Apart from that there is really only one thing to do with this movie: watch it and be moved. The English subtitles are good and easy to follow (at least when I compare them to the Swedish ones, which I assume are very close to the Finnish spoken in the film), but if you're like me you will end up watching this movie so many times you won't need them any more.

To label this a war film isn't really comprehensive enough, because it reaches much further than that. It is simply a film about life, about human beings for better or worse, about good and bad leadership, about manipulation of the masses - and people's ability to withstand it with irony. It is a film about the importance of humor and about friendship. But perhaps more than anything else it is - typically for Finnish movies - a film about nature. Towards the end of it you almost have the feeling that the characters are physically melting into the landscape - even those who survive this horrible disaster of a war, which, according to Väinö Linna, the ruling classes in Finland forced upon their own people.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 3, 2011 9:41 AM GMT

The Winter War ( Talvisota ) ( Vinterkriget )
The Winter War ( Talvisota ) ( Vinterkriget )
Dvd ~ Vesa Vierikko
Offered by DaaVeeDee-uk
Price: £19.69

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cold Country for bold Men, 5 Mar. 2010
The Winter War lasted from December 1939 into April 1940 and was fought between Finland and Russia. How a small country of some 3,5 million people could withstand for so long massive attacks from the mighty Soviet Union of 180 million inhabitants has been a bit of a mystery ever since, or at least until the acclaimed Finnish writer Antti Tuuri published his excellent novel "The Winter War" in the 1980s. It's an extremely tersely written account told in first person by its main character Matti, a member of the Finnish homeguard, who, along with his younger and somewhat more emotional brother, is called up for military service in the weeks leading up to the war. The novel reads like nothing you have ever seen, with hardly any display of emotion except through iron hard irony. The author does nothing to make Matti sympathetic or even remotely politically correct, in fact he is a former sympathiser with the quasi-Fascist Lappo movement, which conducted an armed revolt against the Finnish government in the early 1930s and was squashed by the regular army. However, by the outbreak of the Winter War practically all internal political disagreements among the Finnish population was put aside in favour of the common cause of keeping the Russians out of the country.

By choosing a main character of this particular kind Tuuri enhances his real message. The interesting thing about Matti is not so much himself as the story he has to tell, a story which is so strong it needs no dressing up or emotional outbursts of any kind. (An English translation of the novel exists but is hard to get hold of - apparently it was published in Canada only.) Matti's ultra matter-of-fact, almost cynical way of telling his story is reflected perfectly in the film version of the novel, for which Tuuri participated in the adaptation. There isn't an ounce of sentimentality and none is needed, because the horror and tragedy speaks for itself.

This is the kind of situation small nations and little people often end up in when the big ones decide to have a go at each other. Russia's attack on Finland was purely motivated by the ambition to force through a borderline adjustment that would create a buffer zone for the Red Army in case of a German attack that used Finland as a northern flank. But the Finns didn't feel like handing over vast amounts of productive territory, including the town of Viipuri (the fourth biggest in Finland) in the Karelian Isthmus, and they thought that if they resisted a Russian attack they would be supported by, in particular, Britain. The League of Nations condemned the Russian attack and threw the country out of the assembly. Did they care? Not really. The British offered to send in troops through Lapland but this was really just an attempt to plant own forces in that area and thus cut off the supplies of crude iron from Kiruna in Sweden to Nazi-Germany, essential to the German war machine. Also England and, particularly, France were keen to move the seemingly coming and unavoidable war with Germany away from their own territories, in fact Churchill's prediction at the time was that WWII would be fought out in Northern Scandinavia. However, the Swedes refused Allied troops any kind of access into Lapland in order to maintain their own immensely profitable business adventure with Germany. In the middle of this sad mess of everyone doing what suited themselves best we find snow-covered Finnish trench lines thinly manned with young conscripts and recalled reservists, and a people willing to give anything, including their lives, to maintain their independence as a free nation.

This is really not a film for the tank-spotters or the guts-and-gore brigade, though I'm sure they'll be able to enjoy it very much for its realism and attention to detail. It is a fine work of art where the entire first hour or so has no fighting at all, just little humane stories about these civilians that are being put in uniforms (where such are available) and sent out to war. These chaps are not angels or supermen, they are just people. They are not "proud Marines" or "Airborne" or "Commandos", they are a citizen's army and couldn't give a monkey's whether someone sees them as "heroes" or not. There is no warrior worshiping or nauseating flag-waving in this film, no talk of making sacrifices and so on. The only relevant thing to these people is to keep the Russians from breaking through their lines and ruining their lives.

Luckily for the Finns, the Soviets completely underestimated the level of motivation among their enemy's troops and threw themselves into hopeless situations abundantly. Their strategy from the start was rigid and vastly miscalculated, and the film makes no attempt to hide this. There was nothing in the attack on Finland in 1939 that can be remotely compared to the kind of force with which Nazi Germany had invaded Poland in September the same year. Particularly, the use of armour and warplanes was comparatively limited, though it didn't exactly feel that way to the Finns, who had practically nothing of the kind themselves and hardly any means to withstand such attacks when they did take place. Hence the invention of the famous "Molotov Cocktail", as featured prominently in the movie.

The astonishing thing is that by making the Finnish soldier less mythical, this film and the novel it is based on only makes the Finnish resistance even more astonishing. These everyday chaps carried out a defense of their country which bordered on the impossible. Though the Russians inevitably won the war, they were shown very clearly that any attack on Finland would not be worth the casualties, whatever the outcome. What also happens during the telling of Matti's story is that he gradually becomes more and more sympathetic to the viewer or reader, as his apparent coldness reveals itself as a simple survival mechanism.

The Winter War is a chocking movie. It doesn't tell you what to think, it just shows you what happened. It's a great film.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 3, 2011 10:14 AM GMT

The Ultras
The Ultras
by Eoin McNamee
Edition: Paperback

7 of 12 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A waste of obvious talent, 2 Feb. 2010
This review is from: The Ultras (Paperback)
There is no doubt that Eoin McNamee could be an excellent writer, but what on earth is he doing? He employs some extremely efficient and unique effects to establish an atmosphere, but he simply takes them too far. Everyone in this book has a dark mind that constantly bombards him with gloomy images, most of them more cliched than a B-movie. Everyone is basically a psychopath, not only in his relationship with other people but also in his personal preferences. The phrases 'he thought of' and 'he liked' are repeated so often you wonder if the author it aiming for an entry in the Book of World Records, and what his characters (who, incidentally, are very hard to tell apart) 'think of' and 'like' is anything slimy, stinking, coarse, brutal, sinister, bleak, downtrodden, frayed, infected etc. Everyone is constantly setting up situations to harm others, from the way he walks and talks to the way he places bombs in order to kill most innocent people. You might ask yourself if things could be any different in the clandestine world of Northern Ireland during the late 1970s, but that's a historical issue, this is supposed to be literature and as such it is simply too one-dimensional and unbalanced. After about 20 pages you are in many ways impressed, but you've simply had enough of this ceaseless barrage of unpleasantries.

Even on the historical front things don't stand up. The book is built around the main character Blair Agnew, an alcoholic ex-policeman, ex-convict, who lives in a rusty old caravan at a down-at-heel campsite and receives weekend visits from his anorexic, suicidal daughter whom he does nothing to help - yes, like everyone else he is a first-class a-hole. His former wife, of course, is an bitter, aging bitch with an unfaithful new husband. Agnew's only ambition in life is to collect as much information as possible on a certain British Captain called Robert Nairac who was killed in 1978. His thesis is that Nairac was involved in far more acts of terrorism than is normally supposed. His 'proof' is that a number of terrorist operations have similar unusual features and hence must be conducted behind the scenes by the same planner - a pretty feeble thesis from a former police officer one would say. Why Agnew has set out on this quest is unknown to himself, and to be honest the rest of us are pretty puzzled, too. Even stranger is the fact that Agnew misses out on essential parts of Nairac's background. Captain Nairac is a real life character whose behaviour in many respects was, to say the least, peculiar, until you find out that the guy was obsessed with becoming a reborn Lawrence of Arabia - a kind of Nairac of Northern Ireland, as pathetic as that may sound. Once you've established that fact everything in the man's life starts to fall into place. Yet, despite Blair Agnew's caravan being stacked from floor to ceiling with material on Nairac, he completely overlooks this one essential fact which should have stared him in the eye from day one, just as he fails to take into consideration that some of the monks at the Catholic boarding school Nairac attended as a youth abused the students, which again could explain certain peculiarities in Nairac's behaviour. Though the novel goes back in time and describes Nairac's school years, such experiences are only hinted at, while the fact that Nairac was French-Mauritian by birth isn't mentioned at all. I mean, would you like to be a dark-skinned, half-French pupil at a British boarding school in the 1960s? No, neither would I. Do you think it might have had some influence on your subsequent life? Yes, so do I, but apparantly McNamee and his main character do not.

In short, there really isn't much of a wholesome novel here and what there is would have fallen to pieces if told straight-forwardly in the traditional style of, say, Raymond Chandler, with whom McNamee for some reason is occasionally compared. In order to cover up the blatant weaknesses of the plot the narrative is constructed as a jumbled-up mess of different characters' viewpoints and different historical periods, while a fatal amount of repetitive padding (the omnipresent curse of word processing)is employed to inflate this into something the size of a novel. And it's really all a big shame because undoubtedly the talent is there, lurking on every page. Split up into individual narratives and weeded well there is material here for some great short stories. Likewise, with the right overall idea and no messing about McNamee could possibly be a very interesting novelist. Unfortunately, since the publication of this novel his books have only sunk further down towards the bottom of the pond; yet another indication that he might actually like it there.

Grand Hotel (40th Anniversary)
Grand Hotel (40th Anniversary)
Offered by Fulfillment Express
Price: £7.98

24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars 2009 CD reissue is done no favour by modern technology, 14 Jan. 2010
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Let's begin at the positive end: the digi-pack is appealing and Patrick Humphries' sleeve notes hit the exact right balance between introducing this album to the uninitiated and at the same time having something new to tell the long devoted fans.

Musically it is easy to criticise this album for being pompous and cold, but you have to remember that it came out at a time when popular music was at an all time low. I seem to recall the radio playing 'Tie a Yellow Ribbon' all through the summer of 1973 (or perhaps that was the year before - don't tell me, I don't want to know). So-called progressive rock ruled the other end of the musical spectrum, extremely flamboyant, pseudo-intellectual and more obsessed with playing in impossible time signatures than communicating any form of real human emotion. The nightmare seemed never ending, at least until the following year when Procol Harum released 'Exotic Birds and Fruit', by far their best effort during this period.

However, with 'Grand Hotel' we're still stuck in 1973 with a group who used to have three fine songwriters - Brooker, Fisher, Trower - but had been cut back to only one. In many ways, this incarnation of the group might more appropriately have been called the Gary Brooker Band. To make it worse, guitarist Dave Ball, who had replaced Robin Trower, was sacked immediately after the recording of the album. Instead Mick Grabham was called in to overdub nearly all the guitar parts. One of the two bonus tracks on the reissue features Ball's original part and tells us exactly why this happened. Dave Ball was and is by no means a bad guitarist, he was just desperate to kick some life into this dead dog of a record, only he couldn't find a way to do it. Fortunately, Mick Grabham could, and it is very much his effort under these impossible circumstances that lifts the record enough to makes it an interesting listening experience after all.

'Grand Hotel' did nothing to dissolve the stale image the group was developing in the UK at the time, but it suited European audiences and sold well. Over the last 20 years or so it has been reissued many times over on CD, and you may wonder which version to go for. Well, certainly not this one. It pains me to see other reviewers praise this latest reissue for being 'crispy clear' and 'super detailed'. In a sense they may be right, but then everything sounds clear and detailed if you crank the treble up to 11. The sad truth is that this release is extremely poorly remastered, keeping in line with the tradition already established by Salvo since the start of their Procol Harum reissue programme (the two first CDs were playing the music at the wrong speed, and despite complaints from customers nothing has been done to recall these faulty discs or indeed rectify the error on subsequent product). I would love to be able to tell you differently, but the sound on this disc is so flat and harsh it borders on distortion, particularly with regard to vocals and Hammond organ. It is a disgrace to the group and casts a further cold sheen over a record that wasn't exactly renown for its soulfulness in the first place. Organist Chris Copping once complained that the 1973 vinyl version was depressingly poor sounding compared to what he had heard in the studio during the mix, but even a scratched old vinyl LP will still stand head an shoulders above this. You can pick vinyl copies up second hand for chip money, and the UK version even has a large booklet with ALL the lyrics.

With the recent release of the Beatles Mono box set we have seen just how good CDs can really sound in this day and age, and the trick is simple: just copy straight from the original master tape onto digital and keep your equalizers, compressors and limiters etc. way out of sight. The engineers working for Salvo Records obviously have all the advanced computer equipment to smash and flatten and distort the sound of a brilliant 1970s analogue recording, but they don't know how to hold up a tuning fork and check that the tape machine is running at the right speed before they commence on their destructive adventure.

In other words, we are still waiting to hear what Copping heard. Perhaps we will get it the next time around.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 15, 2014 6:23 PM GMT

Don't Munchen It: Live in Europe
Don't Munchen It: Live in Europe

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ride that One-Trick Pony!, 14 Oct. 2009
This CD, first released in 1993, contains 70+ minutes of astonishing Pirates material recorded 'live' at various venues in the late 1970s, when punk was at its height. It is the toughest, meanest, most breathtaking, astonishing British pub rock R&B ever made. The energy is just mindblowing, the musicality likewise. Hard to imagine these guys were in their mid-thirties during this their second coming, blowing anything in sight off the stage. Mick Green plays guitar like he has four pairs of hands, as he did already in the early 1960s. In fact, if you want to hear a whole record of someone trying to be Mick Green without getting it right, listen to Pete Townshend on "Who's Next". And if you want to listen to the tightest, most driving rhythm section of drums and bass ever, look no further than this release. First and foremost, these guys have a sense of rhythm that is quite unlike anything else you've ever heard. Yes, the style is very limited, but rarely has a one trick pony been ridden so well and so hard. For a set of raw "live" recordings the sound is perfectly acceptable, and to cap it off this disc has probably the greatest set of sleeve notes ever written. It will enrich your life beyond belief!

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