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Gary Longden

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Piano Player's Son
Piano Player's Son
by Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb Kitchen Sink Drama, 10 April 2014
This review is from: Piano Player's Son (Paperback)
Books and films so often misrepresent death. Everyone is unified in grief, they pull togteher and some good emerges. Author Lindsay Stanberry Flynn is smarter than that though. The opening page tells of the death of a family member, invariably a super-charged emotional event, but the death does not unify, it cleaves the family and divides. It also explores the seldom explored dimension that when we experience death we do so differently, all our eperiences of that person vary and truth can be harder to nail down than you might imagine.

The Piano Player's Son is a nuanced and finely crafted novel that zips along with twists and turns as the plot, and family, unravel, with barely a word wasted. Hugley recommended.

How England Made the English: From Why We Drive on the Left to Why We Don't Talk to Our Neighbours
How England Made the English: From Why We Drive on the Left to Why We Don't Talk to Our Neighbours
by Harry Mount
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Truly awful, 10 April 2014
I read this book on the strength of a promising subject and some gushing quotes on the book sleeve, that, it transpires, were written by the author, Harry Mount's mates.

Mount is well educated and knowledgeable but has no idea how to package that learning in a saleable way. The proposition that the English are defined by our physical landscape is an environmentalist position over a determinist one beloved by Eastern thought.Physical and natural geography facts bombard us in a relentless fusilade without thought to interest and relevance. When he does stumble across something interesting, the significance of the lawnmower apopos formal gardens and our nurturing of golf, rugby, tennis and football, he ignores it.

The results are lazy, tedious and boring. Individually, with some detail, there is much to commend, but Mount cannot be bothered to pick, choose edit and illuminate. I struggled with the first chapter, perservering in the hope that things would improve- they did not.

Bring Me the Head of Sergio Garcia
Bring Me the Head of Sergio Garcia
by Tom Cox
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Witty and engaging for golfers and non-golfers alike, 10 April 2014
The tale of the author's unimpressive first year as a golf pro, this book is warm and funny. Poor golers will wince at its veritas, good golferswill smile at the sharp observation and non-golfers will enjoy a very well written book.

Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers Live Anthology - 4CD
Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers Live Anthology - 4CD
Offered by positivenoise
Price: £24.99

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Quirky Treat of Live Gems, 5 Feb. 2012
I am always doubtful of those who claim to like the full body of a great artist's catalogue. For me the process of creating a great body of work involves exploring, sometimes turning back and sometimes failing. I have followed Tom Petty's career from his first album, seeing him twice in the early years. Despite him having eschewed UK tours for the past two decades I have followed his work closely. The Live Anthology is an excellent way for fans living outside of the United States to catch up on what we have been missing. I confess to holding a mild grudge against Tom for deserting the country which recognised him first, and gave him his first significant commercial success!

On the face of it Tom came to the UK at the worst possible time, when Punk was breaking and the mob was assembling to storm the barricades of bloated flaccid musical self indulgence, so why did he find a place in the hearts of UK music fans when the absurd pomposity of rock generally, and US rock in particular, was being binned? His eponymous first album musically was trad rock, at the opposite end of the spectrum to what was happening in London and the backstreets of New York. The leather jacket on the album cover art the only nod to the emerging scene. But it did have one classic song on it (arguably his only cross-over hit and still his signature song) "American Girl" and that drew attention even though it was against the flow of the UK musical tide. Closer inspection reveals two other songs which are live staples 36 years on, "Breakdown" and "The Wild One", a balance of strong material, and only one, "Mystery Man " which has disappeared without trace. In retrospect, it was a stronger debut than was apparent at the time.

When the second album "You're Gonna Get It" was released, the punk mob had stormed the barricades and taken over. Yet somehow Petty's PR team stayed ahead of the game, moody black and blue cover art, an aggressive title, and a quasi-punk single, "I Need To Know", all angular guitars, a catchy hook and under two and half minutes, were enough to get a pass from the New Music Commissars. Eleven of the songs on his first two albums were under three minutes, that met not only contemporary mores, they also reprised the snappy concise early rock n roll , Elvis Presley and Beatles songs that he grew up with.

Playing in front of 100,000 people with only two albums behind you is a daunting prospect, but that is exactly what I saw the band do, supporting Genesis at Knebworth, on a sunny Saturday afternoon. Of course by that time various incarnations of the band had been playing together for a decade so in truth this was a far more seasoned act than might have been assumed - and it showed. A festival setting and a 40 minute slot showed that the fleshed out versions of "Fooled Again" and "Breakdown" were far more representative of what the band were about than the short staccato album cuts. It was their coming of age as an international act, they showed that they had the material, skill and brio to handle whatever rock n roll was going to throw at them.

Some eighteen months later I caught them again at the Hammersmith Odeon in London on the "Damn the Torpedoes" tour which showed them in their true colours. The Punk tide had ebbed to allow a far more diverse New Wave to emerge in the UK. All punk paraphernalia was forgotten, instead we saw them in their true colours, a very good rock band with a strong canon of material. "Refugee" stood out as an instant cult classic. This time only one song was under three minutes, older material was fleshed out and the trademark 12 string jangling guitar sound, a feature of "American Girl" came to the fore, as did their debt to the Byrds. Yet I cannot say they were original, groundbreaking or cutting edge, their skill was in assimilating the sounds of others, and perfecting it, an art which has held them in good stead ever since. Live Petty is a great band leader, but not a great front man.

It is only when I saw Bogdanovic's Heartbreaker's documentary ,"Runnin' Down a dream" that Petty's place in the history of Rock, and his debt to others, became apparent. "Anything That's Rockn Roll's Fine" is a poor pastiche of the Rolling Stone's "I Know it's Only Rock n Roll", "Refugee" a clever reheat of Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" and none of Petty's best love songs can match the joy of neil Youngs "When You dance" or "Only Love Can Break Your Heart". Yet although he can never emulate his heroes at their best he can work their themes as well as anyone, and better than most. The Anthology reveals Petty at his happiest covering others , from "Goldfinger" through "Oh Well" to "Something in the Air". Previously "Needles and Pins", "Cmon Everybody", "Route 66" and "Shout" had been committed to vinyl with versions that outshone their original incarnations. Yet in reverse, for an artist with such a massive body of recording he is curiously little covered by other artists.

The last time I saw him live was in London in 87 supporting Bob Dylan, and then acting as Dylan's backing band, first support was Roger Mcguinn. In perfect symmetry , Petty duetted with Mcguinn on Dylan's "Tambourine Man ", then backed Dylan on "Like a Rolling Stone". The superstar collective "The Travelling Wilbury's epitomised Petty's ability to hold his own , and synthesise with, musical greats like Harrison, Lynne, Dylan and Orbison without ever dominating. He got the best out of everyone, which is what he has always done with the hugely talented Heartbreakers.

The Live Anthology works because it isn't a greatest hits collection, nor is it chronological, it simply picks out highlights from thirty years of live concerts, but without the "Sixth Heartbreaker" - Stevie Nicks. And there are some terrific moments. "Refugee" is faithful and grand, "Woman in Love" and "It's Good to be King" a combined eighteen minutes of aural heaven with Benmont Tench's keyboard work quite sublime, elevating him to Roy Bittan status

The song choices are fine, althoughI would have loved to see "Too Much Ain't Enough" in place of the crass "Century City" and space found for the wonderful "Casa "Dega".At some four hours, it still isn't long enough and confirms through song quality, performance and longevity, that Petty is up there with Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen in the pantheon of US Rock Greats. It also explains his lack of cross-over classics, his songs take the very best from what you have already heard, and presents them in a familiar and appealing form. Petty would have killed to have written "Street Fighting Man", "Sweet Home Alabama", "Fire" ,"Only Love can break Your Heart"" or "if You See her say Hello", but it is not in his nature. Instead we are left with a man who by a process of osmosis, and with consummate skill, has come to represent the best of what American music has had to offer over six decades , rather than be the personification of it.This four disc set is a pretty representative slice of that legacy.

The Gladiator (Eagles of the Empire 9)
The Gladiator (Eagles of the Empire 9)
by Simon Scarrow
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.83

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable if a little Formulaic, 29 Sept. 2011
This was my first Simon Scarrow novel. I enjoy "page turners", historical novels, and have an interest in the Greeks and Romans dating back to schooldays ,so thought there was enough to keep me interested with this - and there was.

Well written, and lightly plotted it zips along at a fair old pace with a story that is a little predictable and feels as though it has been written to be filmed.

It does lack a sense of place, those wanting historic detail will be disappointed and some of the plot twists are formulaic.

But there is no lack of drama, an earthquake and tidal wave set the scene, our heroes are shipwrecked on Crete,a slave revolt ensues, our Roman Centurion heroes battle against the odds, rebellion needs crushing and hostages need saving and senator's daughters need protecting.

At over 500 pages I would have welcomed a little more political intrigue, there are only so many times that sword can crunch bone. A visit to Alexandria provides a glimpse both in terms of description and intrigue of what might have been possible. Equally a character based in Rome would have provided a welcome further dimension to proceedings.

Centurion's Marco and Cato are worthy heroes, the slave leader and Gladiator Ajax a formidable adversary, but Senator Sempronious is bafflingly under-written.

The ending, set for the next instalment, I found irritating and perfunctory, whether my enjoyment would have been enhanced if I had read the back story novels so far I do not know. Yet I did enjoy the characters sufficiently to perhaps read back, to see if it is worth taking in the next in the series.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 17, 2014 8:06 PM GMT


4.0 out of 5 stars Mischievous Fun, 29 July 2011
This review is from: Eponymous (MP3 Download)
Fifi Fanshawe is a bit of a celebrity on the Performance Poetry circuit stretching from her home turf in Cambridge, across to the Midlands. This debut recording, essentially of her greatest hits, is a fine representation of her act. Janis Ian's, tender, heartbreaking paean to teenage female angst, "At 17", has long invited a pastiche, and Fifi does just that with, " When I was Nine" a hilarious take on a rather precocious pre-pubescent child. And when she grows up she does not improve!

" I am Woman", is a defiant tale of female snoring, farting and general bad habits which gloriously sets the tone for much of this album. "Don't Get Me Started" is testament to the fact that this is not a poet to be crossed.

The light, mischievous content will appeal to both men and women and is an ideal taster of what performance poetry can be like for those who last listened to poetry in a dusty classroom rather than a lively pub. Fifi's style is part Victoria Wood, part Jenny Eclair part Joyce Grenfell with a nod to John Cooper Clarke. The fourteen tracks offer good value leaving you with a smile - and wanting more.

Mao's Great Famine: The History of China's Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-62
Mao's Great Famine: The History of China's Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-62
by Frank Dikötter
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £19.99

2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Brillant Account of "The Great Leap Forward" Disaster, 4 Jan. 2011
I came to this book with no expert knowledge of China, Mao or the famine, just a broad brush understanding, and a desire to know more. I was richly rewarded. Frank Dikotter has produced an account which is both accessible to the lay reader, but offers the detail of a definitive historic document.

Covering a mere four years from 1958-62, the largely untold story of a man made disaster which claimed the lives of between 35m - 50m people is laid bare. To the western reader, the names of people and places are unfamiliar. But the skilful writing always allows for this, with an easy narrative style and timely reminders of who the main players are.

If you want statistical evidence of grain yields and cotton production, you have it. Equally, if you want the story of how the sparrow population was eradicated you have that too. The poisonous relationship between Russia and China, and Kruschev and Mao, is told plainly and convincingly, as are its antecedents with Stalin.

Mao himself comes out of this poorly. Dikotter passes no judgement, he just lets the facts speak for themselves. The scale of the Disaster is staggering and almost defies description. Dikotter succeeds by using short sharp , self contained, well defined chapters. This has the advantage of ease of reference for the serious student, and ease of understanding for the rest of us.

Although forensic in style, the book also attempts to explain how all the destruction and horror unfolded, with much authority. The cultural and historic context neatly offers explanations as to why it happened too. Frustratingly the abandonment of "The Great Leap Forward" stops just there, with the seeds of the Cultural Revolution already sown, which is surely fertile ground for another Dikotter opus.

The General: Charles De Gaulle and the France He Saved
The General: Charles De Gaulle and the France He Saved
by Jonathan Fenby
Edition: Hardcover

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Superb, Well Written, Triumph, 2 Jan. 2011
An outstanding biography of one of the great figures of 20th Century history. I hesitated before embarking on this substantial tome. Broadly aware of DeGaulle's place and role in the scheme of things, I struggled to imagine that a comprehensive biography would hold my interest, I was wrong.

That it did is down to the consummate writing skills of author Jonathan Fenby. An acknowledged authority on France in general. and DeGaulle in particular, Fenby's obvious enthusiasm for his subject oozes out of the text in an account authoritatively, but lightly told, account. Anecdote and vignettes, of which there are many always entertain, never distract and always compliment the narrative.

The Free French years and Algerian Crisis are covered triumphantly, but Fenby's skill is that he is as comfortable with his grasp of geo-political intrigue as he is with DeGaulle's love for his handicapped daughter. By common consent a difficult and infuriating man his unequal struggle with an exasperated Roosevelt is painfully recounted, as is his love hate relationship with Churchill.

The conflicts integral within a man who believed himself to be the saviour of his own vision of France, who nonetheless had to trim and negotiate and come to terms with a country marginalised by the outcome of the second world war are brilliantly exposed. The result is not only a definitive document of DeGaulle's life, but a fine example of how good biography should be written. Detail is always given for a purpose, and within context, not to impress the reader.

Not only is this essential reading for those interested in the man, it is also a vital and fresh insight into France's role in the Second World War. The Vichy regime is covered from inception to fall, the Free French from cradle to triumph. DeGaulles struggle to reassert French pride post war is painful in parts, embodied by Colonial decline and the Algerian Crisis. The only minor disappointment is that DeGaulles lack of involvement means that the Vietnam War does not get the time that I am sure Fenby would have liked to devote to it.

Buy , read and enjoy.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 13, 2013 6:51 PM GMT

Between the Lines: My Story Uncut
Between the Lines: My Story Uncut
by Jason Donovan
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Better Than You might Expect, 26 Dec. 2010
With no ghost writer credit, I assume this account is self-penned, in which case Donovan hasn't done too bad a job. I am no Donovan fan but his place in celebrity culture is undeniable, and overall it is a fairly honest account. He opens the book with the story of his collapse at the notorious Viper Room, in LA as a guest at Johhny Depp and Kate Moss's party for which he makes a fulsome apology - it is an indiscretion which still clearly weighs heavily in his list of regrets.

Indeed a feature of the book is a feeling that he "isnt't good enough", he feels his efforts in Neighbours were over-praised, his music career isn't a match for serious rock stars and that he couldn't compete with Michael Hutchinsons call on Kylie. Yet his tales of life on Neighbours are light and refreshing, and he never tales his celebrity either as actor, singer or musical actor/singer too seriously.

Inevitably some chapters smack of self justification. The sections on his addiction to drugs, which are quite frequent , become tedious after a while, and his most recent low profile relationship and family whilst no-doubt satisfying to him, hold little interest to the casual reader. He dishes no dirt, Kylie comes out of the tale unscathed, his manager is a saint, and he is fulsome in his thanks to all of his family.

Although 300 pages long, it is a quick read, leaving the reader with the impression that Donovan is a decent, talented, self-effacing individual - when he is off drugs.

Greg Dyke: Inside Story
Greg Dyke: Inside Story
by Greg Dyke
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Surprisingly Good Read, 25 Dec. 2010
I had previously not had much to go on when it came to judging Greg dyke. My impressions were of a lefty mouthy television man made good, and that was about it. This auto-biography shows him to be much more, and is a well written account of a number of moments in recent popular history about which he offers some intriguing insight.

The key chapters are about the Hutton report and his downfall, TVAM and Murdoch's ruthless rise to pre-eminence in sport. Inevitably, given that Dyke lost his job as DG of the BBC as a result, the Hutton report and his justification of the role that the BBC played in the whole scenario takes up a disproportionate amount of the book and is passionate defence of his role and that of the BBC. At times he overstates his case, but that is only because of the plethora of material which he can draw upon.

The TVAM story is fascinating, breezily told, interesting and insightful. The hand to mouth existence is remarkable and I suspect is probably his finest hour. It combines skill, judgement, good management and luck in an invigorating cocktail of intrigue an anecdote.

His combination of experience as a Man United Director, TV Sport man , and businessman makes his insight into Sky's rise and ITV and the BBC's fall in sporting coverage particularly interesting. Refreshingly, what comes across was that there was a man in charge of sport who actually loved sport.

Some themes run throughout. His enmity with Alistair Campbell and Rupert Murdoch is undisguised as is his disillusion with the Blair Administration, although his criticism of Blair itself is somewhat tempered most of the time.

However, anyone interested in the three main aforementioned topics will enjoy reading good accounts, well told.

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