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Closer to It
Closer to It

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars English prog jazz-rock, 7 April 2012
This review is from: Closer to It (Audio CD)
The title of this 1973 album refers to Brian Auger's decade long quest for a perfect fusion of psychedelic rock, soul, funk and jazz, which began as he worked his way around the rhythm 'n' blues clubs of London's swinging sixties. There are plenty of other great Oblivion Express recordings available out there but this, I think, is the most rounded and complete.

The Oblivion Express sound is built around Auger's phenomenal skills on the Hammond B3 organ and Fender Rhodes piano and the jazz-influenced vocals of Alex Ligertwood. You get the feeling that they are essentially an English psychedelic rock band who heard "Bitches Brew" by Miles Davis and never looked back (hence the title of my review!). The album opens spectacularly with "Whenever You're Ready", a stunning six and a half minute Hammond-driven psychedelic jazz-rock wig-out under-pinned by an unrelenting, samba-tempo percussion.

As the title suggests, "Happiness Is Just Around The Bend" is a much lighter, poppier affair - a bonafied pop song that was apparently a massive radio hit on the sunny west coast of America at the time (despite never being released as a single). It is easy to see why with its infectious, chugging rhythm and Fender Rhodes coda. The song was later covered and given more of a disco-soul sound by The Main Ingredient and then re-emerged ten years later as a slice of Arthur Baker-produced Eighties club soul boogie by Cuba Gooding Jr.

"Light On the Path" is another jazz-rock fusion, this time a funky five minute instrumental. This is followed by "Compared To What", which is a 1970s update on the funky Hammond sound popularised by the likes of Jimmy Smith and much emulated by Brian himself in his 1960s London r'n'b club days. The funked-up cover of Marvin Gaye's soulful and brooding "Inner City Blues" is another stand-out track and definitely one of the finest versions of this classic song - notable for the chiming piano intro and Brian's moody Hammond solo (note: there is an even funkier ten-minute live version of this song on the Live Oblivion 2 album, which also comes highly recommended by me!)

"Closer To It!" draws to a strong close with "Voices Of Other Times", another 'song' (i.e. rather than a 'wig-out') and probably the most light, soulful and mid-tempo sound on the entire album.

As I said earlier, I think this is probably Brian's finest and most complete studio album but the Trinity/Oblivion Express back catalogue is full of treasures well worth hunting down. The most amazing thing to me is that this sound is the imagination of an Englishman schooled in the beat clubs of 1960s London. In fact, Brian Auger's career - and this album in particular - is arguably the missing link between the original 1960s mod movement and the Acid Jazz scene of the 1990s.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 28, 2012 11:44 AM GMT


The Quantum Universe: Everything that can happen does happen
The Quantum Universe: Everything that can happen does happen
by Brian Cox
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Grounded state, 8 Jan 2012
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Despite the subtitle of this book ("Everything that can happen does happen"), this is really a practical "shut up and calculate" book about quantum theory.

One of the problems with fundamental physics is that the underlying implications of quantum theory are just plain mind-boggling. For example, the theory of `superposition' tells us that a particle of matter can be in many places at once and `non-locality' says that particles on opposite sides of the universe can communicate with each other instantaneously - and as far as we know, they can. Even a mind as great as Einstein's struggled with the latter proposition.

Because of this, it is really too easy for lay-people (like myself) to get dazzled by glamorous ideas such as multiple universes and observer created reality and the like. These are all serious theories - and they make for exciting, saleable books - but they are also extremely speculative and ultimately un-testable.

So this new book by Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw is, like their previous title, an attempt to explain exactly what an important theory means to you and me in our everyday lives. At root, it is about why and how atoms form from tiny particles such as electrons and protons. This is so important because it explains how everything in the universe is as we see it. It explains why, from just a few elementary particles, we get the one hundred or so elements of the Periodic Table, why stars and planets form from clouds of dust, why solids are solids and liquids are liquids and why some solids conduct electricity.

At the end of it, we are still forced to accept superposition and non-locality but this book asks you not to think about that too much, to accept their inevitability and get on with understanding how quantum theory explains the above. It has shown me that the basic rules of quantum theory are really quite simple to understand. After probably reading too many books on the speculative side of this subject, this is a wonderfully, refreshing and successful approach.

And, please be reassured, none of this means that you are forbidden to wonder about the true nature of reality when you are done understanding the principles!


I, Claudius (Penguin Classics)
I, Claudius (Penguin Classics)
by Robert Graves
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Learning from history, 29 Aug 2011
Although I was aware of the celebrated BBC adaptation, I had never seen it and only became interested in the book after the writer Michael Dobbs recently named it as one of his top ten political thrillers.

As the title suggests, it is an account of the Roman Empire as told in the first person by Claudius. Firstly, it is a great story. Claudius, whilst being physically frail is, in reality, a shrewd and quietly effective operator who eventually ascends to the top job in Rome. The book is of course entirely fictional but it is based largely on actual historical events and is laced with accurate day to day detail. Even if it isn't true, it might as well be. On top of all that, it is written in a fantastically accessible style.

And, as it turns out, Mr. Dobbs is absolutely correct. Robert Graves understands that the motives, methods and mistakes of those who seek power are universal human truths, regardless of what point in history or walk of life you care to look at. I'm pretty certain that we don't live in such criminally cruel world nowadays but you will delight in recognising these truths as the story unfolds.

You will also end up rooting for Claudius. He is sometimes forced to lie and betray to ensure his own survival but he is basically a decent man with noble intentions - and these are quite rare qualities in this wonderfully gripping story!


The Information
The Information
by James Gleick
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £21.20

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Too much information?, 25 April 2011
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This review is from: The Information (Hardcover)
I think the core idea of this book is about the separateness of 'information' and 'meaning'.

Imagine a random string of numbers, infinite in length with no discernible pattern. Is it possible to write a small, compact computer program to predict the next number in the string at any given point? No, the minimum length of a computer program that could accurately print out the string in the correct order is equal in length to the string itself.

However, think about the number Pi. Infinite yet utterly non-random. A very small, finite computer program can compute it to infinite length and accuracy just by continuously dividing the circumference of a circle by its diameter.

Then consider how much 'information' and 'meaning' the two numbers contain. If you think about it, Pi - computable by looping a single mathematical operation - actually contains a small, finite quantity of information - the information contained in the program. It is only a ratio between two numbers and we only need a small amount of code to predict it to infinite accuracy. But in terms of the amount of 'meaning' this information represents, well Pi basically underpins our understanding of the mechanics of the universe = it has an awful lot of 'meaning'. Conversely, the random string is a massive amount of information with little or no value to us = it has no 'meaning'. To me, this is a new and fascinating way of looking at the universe, leading to some very exciting conclusions.

In this absorbing book, James Gleick takes us on a guided history tour of how modern science finally came to understand the importance of 'information', to the point where it is now regarded as a fundamental quantity just like energy. There are fascinating chapters on the work of Alan Turing and Claude Shannon as well as a brilliant exposition on the concept of entropy, clearly linking it to information theory. As entropy increases, so does the amount of information in the universe. Ultimately we are, just like Maxwell's philosophical Demon, fighting a losing battle in trying to structure and sort it.

This is the book I should have read before I tackled Seth Lloyd's "Programming The Universe". Unfortunately, as I now know, this was not to be. Lloyd's book was published first and - because entropy is always on the up and up - nobody, least of all me, can turn back the hands of time!


SoulBoy [DVD]
SoulBoy [DVD]
Dvd ~ Martin Compston
Price: £5.55

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Possibly the best Northern soul movie ever, 5 Mar 2011
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: SoulBoy [DVD] (DVD)
In a field of one that's a rather back-handed compliment but it does sum up my feelings quite well.

Firstly, it's a fast and colourful, funny, evocative and atmospheric portrayal of the youthful Northern soul movement. This instantly makes it much better than watching footage of middle-aged ex-Wiganites dancing at revival events on YouTube. Top marks also to Martin Compston and the lovely Felicity Jones for getting those moves down so well.

Secondly, the music is very well chosen - I wouldn't hesitate to recommend the soundtrack CD - and I would award more top marks for a pretty authentic recreation the fashions and feel of 1970s Britain.

Unfortunately the lack of a compelling story, coupled with some unfortunate and rather unlikely scenes (such as a 'dance-off' between the two love rivals) somewhat undermines the good work.

The best thing I can say is that, after 80 minutes, you will be smiling and in no doubt whatsoever that the film was made with nothing but genuine affection and good intentions. As a Northern soul fan, that's good enough for me.

N.B. The DVD contains some nice extras for fellow Northern soul fans


The Tiger That Isn't: Seeing Through a World of Numbers
The Tiger That Isn't: Seeing Through a World of Numbers
by Michael Blastland
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

5.0 out of 5 stars Change your life for the better, forever!!, 24 Jan 2011
If, like most of us, you haven't studied or thought very deeply about how statistics work, this book has the potential to change your life - or at least the way you view it.

Statistics are everywhere. Everybody from politicians to pressure groups, shopkeepers, journalists, scientists, doctors and businessmen - even that bloke down the pub - use them to justify what they do and don't do and to convince you what you're doing is wrong. Some statistics are honest, good and true but the problem with them is that they can just as easily blur the truth and say or mean anything depending on what you leave out, put in, ignore or compare them with.

Here is a simple example: If I told you that "statistical studies show that eating chocolate increases your chance of contracting xxxxxx disease by 50%", does it mean you should give up? The answer is "not necessarily". Certainly not without knowing what the chances of contracting the disease are for not eating chocolate or checking how accurate the study was or asking "Exactly, how much chocolate are we talking about here?". Unfortunately, we fail to do this time and time again, allowing biased, unscrupulous or downright dishonest people to close down reasoned debate with the flourish of a simple percentage sign.

This book shows you what questions you need to ask. It will improve your decision-making skills and illuminate your way through the endless fog of "lies, damn lies and statistics" that we are subjected too!


The Tiger That Isn't: Seeing Through a World of Numbers
The Tiger That Isn't: Seeing Through a World of Numbers
by Michael Blastland
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Change your life for the better, forever!!, 16 Jan 2011
If you haven't studied or thought very much about how statistics work, this book has the potential to change your life.

Statistics are everywhere. Everybody from politicians to pressure groups, shopkeepers, journalists, scientists, doctors and businessmen - even that bloke down the pub - use them to justify what they do and don't do and to convince you what you're doing is wrong. The trouble is, statistics can be made to say or mean anything depending on what you leave out, put in, ignore or compare them with.

Here is a simple example: If I told you that "statistical studies show that eating chocolate increases your chance of contracting xxxxxx disease by 50%", does it mean you should give up? The answer is "not necessarily". Certainly not without asking what the chances of contracting the disease are for not eating chocolate, how accurate the data is and "Actually, how much chocolate are we talking about here?". Unfortunately, we fail to do this time and time again, letting dodgy, unscrupulous and downright dishonest people get away with blue murder.

This book shows you what questions you need to ask. It will improve your decision-making skills and help you to see through the endless fog of "lies, damn lies and statistics" that we are subjected too!


Garmin Nuvi 1310 4.3" Sat Nav with UK and Ireland Maps and Bluetooth (discontinued by manufacturer)
Garmin Nuvi 1310 4.3" Sat Nav with UK and Ireland Maps and Bluetooth (discontinued by manufacturer)

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fairly basic but very good and simple to use SatNav, 6 Sep 2010
There are lots of reviews of the Nuvi 1310 on here and they are mainly positive - which sums up exactly how I feel about it. It's my first SatNav and I have found it to be beautifully put together and very easy to use.

I've had no problems acquiring a GPS signal - usually less than a minute (except when indoors, of course). Using it out on the road it has been superb, not once failing to get me where I want to go. Very occasionally you have to apply a teeny-weeny bit common sense e.g. once as I was exiting a petrol station, it told me to turn right on to an 'A' road that had been kerbed down the middle (in reality, I had to turn left and do a 360 at the next roundabout a few yards down the road) but that is the exception rather than the rule.

I particularly like ETA (estimated time of arrival) and the speed indication (it gives you your current speed - very accurately - and the current speed limit for the road that you are on, with a warning if you are approaching a known mobile or fixed speed camera area).

I also love the way you can name and save favourite destinations such as HOME or WORK or any regular journey. I also like the way it will find the nearest petrol station, resturant, hotel etc etc if you ask it to!

It doesn't have motorway or dual carriageway 'lane guidance' as such (which some of the more expensive ones have) but it does tell you to 'keep left' or 'keep right' and counts down the distance to the next junction if you need to turn off. That being the case, I can't really see the point of paying extra for the 'lane guidance' upgrade

The only thing I find slightly annoying is that it isn't so easy to check ahead and step through the route it has calculated for you (well, I haven't found an easy way to do it yet anyway). Apart from that, I can't really fault it.

The windscreen/dashboard mounting kit supplied is brilliant but it doesn't have a mains charger lead or USB cable for connecting to your PC (which you need for map upgrades etc). I would advise buying these at the same time (I bought mine from the same supplier on Amazon).

That's it. Good little machine, very pleased.


Searching for Soul
Searching for Soul
by Reg Stickings
Edition: Paperback

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Keeps on burning!, 26 July 2010
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Searching for Soul (Paperback)
If you are looking for a definitive history of the Northern soul scene I could recommend some excellent, well-researched and nicely-packaged books by the likes of David Nowell, Mike Wilson and Stuart Russell or - more recently - Neil Rushton. Most of them, however, do tend to treat Northern soul as a standalone movement - slightly frozen in time, constrained by geography and more-or-less book-ended by the opening of the Twisted Wheel in Manchester and the closing down of Wigan Casino.

But Reg Sticking's story is not like that. Instead it recounts - in first person - the story of a Hemel Hempstead lad who discovered soul music at his local youth club in the late 1960s and the life long journey this discovery sent him on.

From Bennetts End Youth Club to the Cali in Dunstable, to Wigan Casino, Cleethorpes Pier, the Blackpool Mecca, to the Top Rank in Watford, the Goldmine in Canvey Island and numerous Caister Soul Weekends. Reg's sharp memory brings all these legendary old venues to life - the sounds, the smells, the atmosphere. It is also a tale of Blues & Soul magazine, back street record shops, Kingsway loafers, Levi jackets, Fred Perrys, white socks and tonik suits, Oxford bags and soul club patches. At centre stage is Reg's beloved archive of imported US vinyl, the records that soundtracked his journey, from Edwin Starr to the Salsoul Orchestra to the Sunburst Band.

But perhaps most importantly of all, it is the story of the characters, of the laughter and tears, the fun and camaraderie - the lifelong friends (the 'soulies') that Reg made along the way and their passionate dedication to great music which - despite recent reports to the contrary - is still burning just as strongly in the 21st Century!


Miles Away
Miles Away
Price: £12.39

16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Electric jazz, 13 Mar 2010
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This review is from: Miles Away (Audio CD)
Pretty much a straight jazz album from Madlib - and quite possibly the best thing he has ever done.

As the title (of both the album and Madlib's 'band') suggest, "Miles Away" seems to be influenced by Miles Davis' post-Bop late '60s/early '70s "Electric" period. That said, it is definitely not "Bitches Brew", but rather a kaleidoscope of rhythms, sounds and textures reminiscent of artists such as Larry Young, Roy Ayers, Harry Whittaker ("Black Renaissance" - oh my word) and Pharoah Sanders from the same period. Maybe it's my imagination but I can also hear the spirit of Can's "Tago Mago" bouncing around in there too (check the Larry Young track).

Remarkably, as with his other excursions into jazz (e.g. as Yesterday's New Quintet) in reality there is no such band as The Last Electro-Acoustic Space Jazz & Percussion Ensemble. Madlib is not just a Hip-Hop DJ and producer, he is also a talented multi-instrumentalist. These sounds are not samples of other people's music - all of it is created by one man in a studio with a bunch of instruments.

However, the really clever and original bit about "Miles Away" is that unlike "Bitches Brew", "Big Fun" or "On The Corner" (or even "Tago Mago") you won't find yourself having to sit through hours of experimental, improvised sound to experience their fleeting splashes of psychedelic pop genius. Applying his Hip-Hop principles, Madlib has stripped away the indulgent and impenetrable bits and spliced together all the peak elements - those rhythms, stabs and riffs, the bits which work for a hungry pop fan like myself - and created ten short tracks that deliver that radical Electric jazz sound without ever once disappearing down a musical cul-de-sac. For somebody who loves the idea behind "In A Silent Way" and "Dark Magus" but is usually far too impatient to listen to them in one sitting, this is a very beautiful thing. The result is joyful and infectious in a way that jazz rarely (or probably never) is. As if to underline the broader appeal this record may have, I was alerted to it after reading a gushing review by Paul Morley (Paul Morley!!) in The Observer.

Oh and, just as with some of Mile's '70s work, the cover art - the whole package in fact - is fantastic too!
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 24, 2011 8:47 PM GMT


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