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Dazzling Stranger: Bert Jansch and the British Folk and Blues Revival
Dazzling Stranger: Bert Jansch and the British Folk and Blues Revival
by Colin Harper
Edition: Paperback

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dazzling performer, 8 Oct 2003
If you are into the British folk and blues scene of the early 60s, then this is the book for you. It vividly describes the burgeoning Edinburgh folk scene of the Scottish revival. It was here where Jansch developed his unique guitar style, drawing heavily upon such blues stylists as Big Bill Broonzy and Brownie McGee. London had its own burgeoning folk scene, dominated by larger than life personalities like Ewan McColl, A.L.Loyd, Dominic Behan, and Davy Graham, who was furrowing a similar furrow to Jansch. Jansch drifted down to London where he met the English folk singer, Annie Briggs. They struck up a close relationship. He learnt a large part of his repertoire from her, to which he would apply his own blues oriented stylistic approach. This would bloom with his third album, "Jack Orion", where he approached traditional English folk songs as if he were a blues artist: extending phrases and slurring them. For instance, "The Gardener" is sung in a wordless vocal similar to Blind Willie Johnson's "Dark Was The Night-Cold Was The Ground." The title track is a hypnotic and spellbinding 9 minutes long. There had been nothing like this in folk music before. With this album, he extended and fully realised the folk-boroque style, which drew upon folk, blues, and jazz, and was pioneered by Davy Graham with his album, "Folk, Blues and Beyond."
Jansch was not only a unique and masterly guitarist and singer, but an excellent songwriter. Steering clear of politics, to the disgust of McColl, he honed in on the personal. He celebrated personal independence with "Strolling Down The Highway" and "Rambling's Going To Be The Death Of Me." He wrote incredibly moving love songs such as "A Dream, A Dream, A Dream" and "Oh How Your Love Is Strong." His anti-drug song, "Needle of Death", was greatly admired by Neil Young, and was to influence Young's own collection of anti-drug songs, "Tonight's the Night."
Jansch met up with John Renbourne and found someone who was not only on the same musical wavelength but who could match him for ability. They recorded "Bert & John" together, a beautiful album of guitar duets, and then they went on to form Pentangle, which had Bert and John on guitars, backed by a jazz rhythm section, and fronted by a traditional English folk singer. It was here that they hit the big time, touring the world and raking in the money.
Jansch is a private man, permanently scruffy and reserved, seemingly unconcerned with the trappings of stardom. However, Colin Harper has successfully brought this man to life, describing Jansch's weakness for alcohol, his failed marriages, and his various friendships, the most important of which seem to be Annie Briggs and John Renbourne. The best part of the book is the first half where he describes Jansch's developing talent and the misic scene in which he developed it. The latter of part of the book is not so interesting because Jansch is himself less interesting, no longer pioneering, and living off his past reputation.
If you love Jansch then you will want to read this book. If you love the British folk and blues revival, then you will also want to read it, because the period and the characters that dominated it are brought vividly to life. Colin Harper deserves credit for that.


Swarb! Forty Five Years Of Folk's Finest Fiddler
Swarb! Forty Five Years Of Folk's Finest Fiddler
Price: 44.35

14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Far from definitive Swarb collection-a wasted opportunity, 11 Sep 2003
Anyone reading the title of this lavishly packaged set would think they would be buying the definitive compilation of England’s very finest fiddler. They would be wrong. The title is misleading. What it should say is “Swarb. Obscurities and rarities from the last forty five years of the fiddler, Dave Swarbrick.” That at least would be honest. Many of the tracks here are culled from Swarb’s private collection of recordings made in countless folk clubs and concerts around the country and the rest of the world. Mostly they are badly recorded. Always there is tape hiss. There has been no attempt to re-master the tapes, just the old tapes put straight on to disc. That is not to say there is no good stuff here. There is his work with Bert Lloyd, the Ian Campbell Folk Group, Simon Nicol, and Alistair Hulett; but there is little representation of his solo albums or his many collaborations with Carthy he recorded on the Topic label. Surely, on a 4 CD set, the Carthy recordings on Topic, some of the finest in the genre, should get a CD to themselves. Fairport Convention is well represented here, - not the classic recordings, of course, but obscure live recordings, some of which are plain dreadful. Listen to their lamentable attempt at Dylan’s ‘Country Pie, for instance, which is badly played, badly sung, and badly recorded.
A part of this box set is a 136 page book by Nigel Schofield detailing the life and works of Swarb. It misses out little but the chronology is confused, so that the text jumps back and forth instead of progressing logicially from the 60s onwards. This creates confusion, at least it did for me. on the plus side there are also lots of viginettes dealing with musicians he has recorded with and albums he has made. These are interesting. So are the many pictures and reproductions of posters, tickets, Melody Maker articles etc, which flood the pages. Therefore, the book (it is too big to call a booklet) is like the CDs - a mixed affair. It basically needs a good editor to sort it out rather like the CDs need a good producer to sort them out.
This set is a missed opportunity. There is nothing wrong with an album of obscure tracks and unheard live recordings so long as the packaging does not attempt to sell itself as any thing else. This is most definitely not a definitive compilation set. There is a precedent for this type of CD. Nic Jones’ ‘Unearthed’ and ‘In Search of Nic Jones’, published by Mollie Music but sadly not available from Amazon or in shops, set out to do just the same as ‘Swarb’. It collected together radio shots, archive material and live recordings and provided them with concise but informed notes and photos from the present and the past. This is what Free Reed should have done with Swarb. There is too much here and much of that of low quality. I cannot recommend this box set despite the treasures it holds. I bought it thinking that it would be a Best of Dave Swarbrick. Instead, I got a mixture of the best and the worst. I cannot wait until we get a proper retrospective of Dave Swarbrick covering his solo work, his work with Fairport Convention, and his classic recordings with Martin Carthy. Until that happens, stay away from this, and type in Dave Swarbrick into the Search Engine, and select anything of his that has Carthy’s name beside it such as ‘But Two Came By’ or ‘Byker Hill’, the solo albums such as ‘Swarbrick’ and ‘Swarbrick 2’, and something by the Fairports, such as ‘The History of …’ or ‘Liege and Lief.’ There you will hear the genius of Swarb in full flight, and a delightful sound it is too, the best in all England in fact.


The New Adventures Of Superman: Volume 9 [VHS]
The New Adventures Of Superman: Volume 9 [VHS]
VHS

0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Lois! Go away! Superman! A wimp!, 5 Aug 2003
This whole series would be a lot better, in fact would be watchable, if it wasn't for Terri Hatcher's performance as Lois Lane. She just hasn't got the class, style, and panache to pull it off. The original creators of Superman obviously had someone like Lauren Bacall or Katherine Hepburn in mind. In Terri Hatcher's performance, Lois becomes a pushy career woman without any charm whatsoever. In the comics and the other TV series, including the excellent cartoon series in the 60s, Lane was a minor character. It was Superman's show. He was the one with the superpowers doing battle with super villians. Here, he is an utter wimp? Superman seems unable to do anything without asking Lois.
Lois has too much screen time.She interfers in everything. Take her out, and each episode would make for a thoroughly entertaining half an hour. I can't wait for the director's cut for the whole series.


The Phantom Of Liberty [VHS]
The Phantom Of Liberty [VHS]
VHS
Offered by shannon-raven
Price: 17.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A minor Bunuel masterpiece, 4 Jun 2003
The Phantom of Liberty is made up of a series of surrealist vignettes held together by the loosest of narrative structures - Think of a Monty Python episode without the laughter-track. The opening scene has prisoners facing a firing squad, defiantly clenching their raised fists, and shouting, "Down with freedom" and "Long live chains." This pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the film. In another memorable scene, guests sit down at the dining table, but instead of chairs, they sit on toilets. To talk about food at the table is the height of vulgarity. There are other scenes just as good. This film may sound arty-farty, but it works and works brilliantly, and in no small part due to Luis Bunuel, who directs with the minimum of fuss and the maximum of effect. Don't let the surrealist tag put you off. This film is fun and was meant to be so. This may not be quite up there with the rest of Bunuel's classics : Belle De Jour, Simon of the Desert, or The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, with which The Phantom of Liberty has something in common; but it is still a minor masterpiece and will delight and baffle in equal measure.


Blood and Champagne: The Life of Robert Capa
Blood and Champagne: The Life of Robert Capa
by Alex Kershaw
Edition: Paperback

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The 20th Century's finest photojournalist, 18 May 2003
The life of Robert Capa is truly fascinating. Born in Budapest in 1913, he was to die forty years later in Vietnam after establishing himself as one of the great photojournalists of the 20th Century. He captured on film some of the most memorable pictures in the Spanish Civil War, including the iconic “The Falling Soldier.” A shameless propagandist for the Republican cause, he thought nothing of having combatants “pose” for some of his most dramatic pictures - including, many think, “The Falling Soldier.” Did the republican soldier fall because he was shot or because he tripped? Was it posed? The jury is still out on that one. A Jew at a time when anti-Semitism was rife in Europe, he became a committed anti-fascist and socialist. He established the photographers’ co-operative, Magnum, in order that photographers had control over their own photographs and earnings. This was not so different to the kibbutzim established in Israel by highly idealistic settlers whom he so admired. Needless to say, Capa was there to record the birth of the fledgling state of Israel in 1948 and caught on film that nation's birth pains as it battled with its Arab neighbours. War was his medium, even though he hated it. He went over in a landing craft to photograph the D-Day landings and produced some of the most memorable pictures of battle ever taken. This was despite that most of the pictures were ruined during the rushed processing in London and some of those that survived are out of focus.
Capa was talented, generous, humorous, and charismatic. An inveterate gambler, he played poker with the likes of John Huston and Ernest Hemmingway, and inevitably lost. Like most people who don’t care about money, money problems plagued him. Highly sexed, he counted some of the most beautiful women of the age amongst his lovers, including Ingrid Bergman. When lovers were not immediately available, he contended himself with prostitutes. Loving and loved in return, he was too much of a bohemian to commit himself to a permanent relationship. He could have been rich, but he never was. He could have happily married, but he never did.
Capa’s luck ran out when he went to Vietnam in 1953 to cover the war between the French and the Vietnamese and trod on a landmine.
Alex Kershaw deserves credit for producing such a well-written and researched autobiography.


A Short History of the World (Penguin Modern Classics)
A Short History of the World (Penguin Modern Classics)
by H. G. Wells
Edition: Paperback

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A vivid and comprehensive view of world history, 11 May 2003
This is the book that had such a powerful impact on Malcolm X. Its easy to see why. The history of the world is vividly outlined in an erudite and readable style. (Ever since I read ‘The Time Machine’ when I was sixteen, I have considered Wells to be the clearest writer of prose in the English language.) Wells takes us from the very beginning of life right up to the League of Nations in 1922, stopping off at most points in-between: Neolithic cavemen, Periclean Athens, Roman and Byzantium civilisations, the life of Jesus, Confucius and Lao Tse, the rise of Islam, the Dark Ages, the Renaissance, discovery of America, the Industrial Revolution, World War I, and so on. The book is breathtaking in its scope, but Wells manages to give a succinct, vivid and comprehensive view of world history. I have found myself re-reading many of the chapters and I do not doubt that I will soon be re-reading the book in its entirety. There is little to criticise in this book – maybe it is a little Euro-centric; in the last chapters he does tend to labour his point a bit; and the early chapters are a little dated as we now know so much more about the evolution of our species. These are mere quibbles. Read it and become informed. Read it and be entertained.


Diamonds Are Forever [VHS] [1971]
Diamonds Are Forever [VHS] [1971]
VHS
Offered by Discountdiscs-UK : Dispatched daily from the UK.
Price: 1.48

1 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Suspend belief and just enjoy, 1 Jan 2003
While the Bond films may not have been cinematic masterpieces, the best of them had all the right ingredients -excitement, glamour, humour - to keep you entertained for a couple of hours. Diamonds Are Forever is no exception. Everything that is good about Bond is here. A more-than-memorable title song- sung beautifully by Shirley Bassey; a super villain; gorgeous eye candy in the shape of Lana Wood and Jill St John; witty one liners; fights; car chases; futuristic technology 60s style; and a ludicrous plot. It also has Scotland's finest and one of cinema's most engaging actors: Sean Connery. Connery is Bond. Sophisticated enough to know his wines; suave enough to charm the most beautiful of ladies; and ruthless enough to fully earn his licence to kill. Connery convinces on all fronts. The success of the Bond films is as much down to Connery as anything else. So sit back and get the popcorn out. You may not believe a word of this film, but you should enjoy.


The Rise of New Labour (Pocket essentials: Politics)
The Rise of New Labour (Pocket essentials: Politics)
by Robin Ramsay
Edition: Paperback

17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The strange suicide of the Labour Party, 30 Dec 2002
One of the most remarkable events in post-war Britain is not the advent of Thatcherism, although that was remarkable enough; but the transformation of the Labour Party from a social democrat party with its roots in the urban working class and trade union movement to a conservative party in thrall to big business. ‘The Rise of New Labour’ tracks this transformation from Ted Heath’s government of the 70s through to the present day.
This booklet (pamphlet really) covers a lot of ground in its 94 pages, but Ramsay’s arguments are compelling and intriguing. According to Ramsay, Competition and Credit Control introduced under Heath abolished controls on borrowing. The interest rate alone would control credit in the economy. Heath hoped that this would create a credit boom that would finance industry. What happened instead were a consumer boom, a rise in property values, a flood of imports, and a trade deficit. Because Heath would not allow interest rates to rise high enough to suppress borrowing, he got roaring inflation. Trade Unions campaigned to increase the wages of their members in order to keep up with inflation. (As Ramsey points out, trade union militancy was not the cause of inflation, as was often stated, but the result of inflation. If unions were chasing after wage rises lower than inflation, they were effectively asking for a cut in wages. Therefore, to say that wage rises were responsible for inflation in the 70s is to mistake effect for cause. A myth that has become established as fact.) In 1973, Heath suspended Competition and Credit Control.
When Labour came back into power, inheriting Heath’s inflation, James Callaghan went to the IMF and borrowed money to defend the value of the pound, which by this time had taken a hammering. This they did. They also brought down inflation without causing a recession. The electorate thanked the Callaghan government by turfing them out of office and putting Thatcher into No. 10.
The nightmare began. Thatcher came in to power with the intention of bringing down inflation through controlling the money supply. Raising interest rates would do this. This would create a recession, but the long-term benefits would out-weigh the short-term cost, and if the manufacturing industry would bear the brunt of the recession, so be it. She didn’t care. Manufacturing was old hat. Manufacturing was also the base for the craft unions and where support for Labour lay. Who cared about them? Emphasis shifted away from manufacturing and towards finance, a shift that was to be financed by North Sea Oil. The City of London captured the imagination of the Conservative Party, and in time, the Labour Party as well. As a result, Britain’s manufacturing base was reduced to almost nothing. Northern England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland wallow in depression while the economy in the South East of England, where the financial industry resides, continually overheats.
This is the gist of Robin Ramsay’s argument, I think. Like most people, I’m no economist and in order to follow Ramsey’s argument, you need to keep your wits about you. There is more. He goes on at length to explain how after losing four elections in a row the Labour Party embraced Thatcherism in order to get elected; how the present incumbent of No. 10 recreated the Labour Party to resemble that of the American Democrat Party – always a paper tiger; and how the institutions of Britain (especially the Treasury) undermined Britain’s true interest. There is also an interesting look at the relationship between certain sections of British society, including the Labour Movement, and the United States. There is a lot to mull over here, but for those confused as to the direction of the Labour Party under Tony Blair, then Ramsey explains what happened, why it happened, and why it need never have happened. For those who refuse to accept the present consensus of neo-liberal doctrines, then this book should be a welcome addition to your armoury. Ramsey knows his stuff. He has done his homework. Read this booklet and you will see UK history in a different light.


Assault On Precinct 13   [VHS]
Assault On Precinct 13 [VHS]
VHS
Offered by unclejohnsband
Price: 8.95

5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Get the popcorn out and enjoy!, 22 Dec 2002
Assault on Precinct 13 is a straightforward, no-nonsense action packed thriller, and as such, it can't be faulted. Police Station Precinct 13 is going to be closed down, leaving a new Lieutenant in charge on the last day. The cells are empty. A skeleton crew is on duty. Things are winding down pretty nicely as the slack has been taken up by the new police station. However,events begin to gather apace. A man wanders in. He is traumatized. He cannot speak. Suddenly a huge armed gang who are after the man besiege the station. The phone and power lines go down. The precinct is isolated. They are on their own. The tension builds up nicely and never relents.
For a film like this, you don't expect too much in-depth characterization, and you don't get it; but the script and the actors flush out the characters with enough personality to make you care about them. Carpenter should be given credit for making the central character black. In 1976, this was not common. Carpenter also does a good job at hinting at the suppressed racism in the police force. Nothing needs to be said as the body language of the white police officers says it all. It's done with subtlety and is spot on. However, this is not allowed to get in the way of the action. The film's protagonists are in a tight spot. We watch as they hold out against the besiegers to the bitter end. Along with Dark Star, this is Carpenter's best film and far superior to the rubbish he churned out in the 80s. Get the popcorn out and enjoy.


Paingod and other delusions
Paingod and other delusions
by Harlan Ellison
Edition: Paperback
Price: 8.95

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unique, challenging and compelling, 19 Dec 2002
Ellison, for the most part, has been out of print for the past twenty years, and that, in my opinion, is a bad thing. A very bad thing! During the 60s and 70s, he was not only the best writer of the New Wave of science-fiction, he was also the most original short story writer around. It can be said that he wrote like no one else. His style is vigorous, compelling and lucid. He grabs you by the scruff of your neck and makes you see what he wants you to see. No one else can hold a candle to him. A prolific writer, he wrote something like 700 stories, starting from the 50s and continuing through to the early 80s. The stories in this collection are from the 60s, and what a wonderful collection it is too.
'"Repent, Harlequin" said the Tick Tock Man' is a story every bit as good as it's title - and I think that the title is a real peach. In about 3000 words he describes a dystopia where society is ruthlessly regimented by the clock. If you are five minutes late for an appointment, you lose five minutes off your life. The Tick Tock Man (or the Master Timekeeper, to call him by his official title) rules with a ruthless efficiency, and relentlessly tracks down the Harlequin, the ultimate non-conformist who refuses to be on time and who ingeniously disrupts the smooth running of this soulless society. If you have read 1984, you will know what happens- but there is a lovely twist at the end, which I won't spoil by giving away. The story may sound daft but it works and works beautifully. His imagination is unique. His aim is true. In Paingod, another classic, he tries to explain why there is so much pain in the world and why it is so necessary. There are other glories here: 'The Discarded', 'The Crackpots' and 'Deeper Than Darkness.' All worth your perusal. Each story is preceded by a short introduction that is as readable, entertaining and lively as the stories.
Ellison is a wonderful writer who doesn't deserve the neglect that has befallen him. Buy this book and maybe -yes, just maybe! - it will encourage some enterprising publisher to reprint such essential collections as Strange Wine, Deathbird Stories, Alone Against Tomorrow, and Approaching Oblivion. Why Ellison isn't one of the most popular men of American letters utterly baffles me. He is as good as the best and better than most.


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