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Keep Warm... With The Warm Digits [VINYL]
Keep Warm... With The Warm Digits [VINYL]
Price: £18.58

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Motorik; Mesmeric; Metronomic; Magnificent, 30 Oct 2011
This is a fine album of instrumental music. The predominant influence is "Krautrock" but there are also funky post-punk, disco, electronica, rock and more in the mix. For all the clear influences and nostalgia that might be evoked by everything from the titles to the "distressed" gatefold, this is very clearly a record made in the hear and now which doesn't sound exactly like anything else.

We receive a "Warm Welcome" through a jacuzzi of bubling synth before the first "proper" track, "Keep Warm" introduces the insistent drumming and propulsive basslines that are central to the whole album. "Trans-Pennine Express" pulls slowly away from the station, the tape speeding up slowly from a deep soup of sound to a recognisable drum rhythm propelling us into the tune proper. "Weapons Destruction" is faster still, with a techno-y feel and a Georgio Moroder edge whilst the mid-tempo "Grapefruit", with its electric bass and funky cowbell moves firmly into post-punk and disco territory and "A Warm Front Coming from the North" has an "Autobahn" feel about it. "One Track Groove" is my favourite track on the album: seven and a half minutes of intensity beginning with pulsing synths being swathed in layers of fuzzy guitar before giving way to rolling drums and cinematic grand piano chords. And so the album goes on delivering constant propulsive drive and analogue warmth.

When playing live as a duo, the Warm Digits' music is largely improvised and this is evident on this album. Messrs Jefferis and Hodson establish their pulse and then develop sounds and melodies over the top, mining the groove for all it's worth. Central to the record are the drumming and those basslines (often synthesized) which provide a hook for the music, as well as hooking the listener and drawing you in to be mesmerized by the joy of the music. And once I was hooked I found myself playing it again. And again. And again. And...

And there's not much better recommendation than that.


Born Again (And The Religion Is The Blues)
Born Again (And The Religion Is The Blues)
Price: £11.99

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Billy's British Blues, 14 Nov 2010
Billy Jenkins is, among other things, a blues singer but he's unquestionably British. He sings not of his woman having done gone left him, pickin' cotton for the man or selling his soul to the Devil but of the joys of avoiding matrimony, the downside of dogs and the misery of having the parents to stay ("Steradent, Anusol, TCP, Warfarin is your bathtime companion"). Musically, he is also a product of a country which has, for some time, had a thriving free jazz and improvised music scene, as well as being home to punk.

This is Billy Jenkins' most straight-ahead blues album, yet, but it is not without its musical invention and Billy's trademark splinters of scratchy guitar playing. He is joined by Mike Pickering on drums and Jim Watson on organ, as well as numerous additional musicians. The title track chugs along in archetypal blues fashion, supported by a blues choir to add to the feeling of being born again, whilst the next track, "Ain't Getting Married in the Morning" continues in similar fashion and gives Billy plenty of opportunity to demonstrate his grunt-grow, vocals. "I Felt So Guilty" is a slower number telling of the dangers of kissing your best friend's wife and features the core Trio Blues Suburbia trading some dynamic solos. "I Don't Want Another Night Like That" is another up-tempo number that makes the listener feel much more full of life than the singer does after one of those nights out and he gets to use the growliest of his grunt-growl vocals on "I Hate Dogs", in which he "duets" with four year old Sam Pickering. "Looking for Mr Happy" is a jolly tune for a commentary on the blues and is followed by the lament about inter-generational problems, whilst "Chained" deals with being confined by responsibilities.

The final track, "I Took a Walk", is the best of a fine album. It deals with contemplating the ultimate solution to the blues and finding the strength to overcome such thoughts and to carry on. Bleak, though it may seem, the music and words are truly uplifting. This whole album is a testament to the power of the blues, religious or not.


How to be a Supergardener
How to be a Supergardener
by Alan Titchmarsh
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Super book for any gardener, 2 Nov 2010
My parents lent me their copy of this book when I first got a garden that required more than mowing the lawn. I have since bought my own copy (they were reluctant to let it go for too long) because it is so useful. I now have quite a number of gardening books but this is by far and away the one I use most and that I treat as my gardening "Bible".

Don't be put off by the fact that it's by "the nation's favourite TV gardener" or by the silly title. This is not a glossy TV tie-in that is all style and no substance; it's a really useful, informative, comprehensive book. The book starts with the basics of working a plot through specific chapters on particular types of plants or gardening (trees, shrubs, climbers, roses, bedding plants, rock gardening, greenhouse gardening and so on) and then gives information on pests and diseases. All of the main topics which will interest gardeners are covered.

Particularly useful are the lists of plants that are provided in each chapter for different requirements and locations so you can find the perfect plant. These include the author's personal favourites and the descriptions are warm and personal displaying a love and understanding of the garden that goes beyond that of a textbook author.

If you're a new gardener or a more experienced gardener looking to maintain or renovate your garden, this book is ideal.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 5, 2011 6:08 PM BST


The Colour of Magic: The First  Discworld Novel: 1
The Colour of Magic: The First Discworld Novel: 1
by Terry Pratchett
Edition: Paperback
Price: £4.90

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Creative but disappointing, 31 Oct 2010
I rarely read books on the basis that someone says "you really should read this," preferring to find my own taste. When a friend told me that reading Terry Pratchett reminded him of listening to me, however, this appealed to my vanity and I bought "The Colour of Magic". Reading it reminds me why I'm not a published author.

It's not a dreadful book: there are a few humorous lines, the scenarios are highly creative and parts of the storylines are technically well crafted. It's just not a particularly great book, either. There is no character development and little character. The two main protagonists are simple caricatures: Rincewind is cowardly but quick-witted; Twoflower is naive and curious. The characters are not rounded enough for us to care much about what happens to them. When they are in mortal danger (as they often are) we aren't really too bothered whether they live or die (although when you're only part way through the first story you have a fairly good idea that they're not actually for the chop, quite yet). The cliff-hangers themselves become wearisome, too, with our "heroes" facing certain death until something unexpectedly snatches them from their perilous situation only for another to develop before they are unexpectedly snatched away only for another...

The other disappointment, for me, was the writing style and language. Although the writing is very competent and Pratchett's vocabulary wide, the writing never really comes alive and fizzes and crackles with comic brilliance the way, say, P G Wodehouse's did. It is far from unreadable but there is no particular joy in reading it.

If you are thinking about reading this book, I'd reccommend borrowing a copy from the library. If you enjoy it then you're in luck: there are thirty-five more "Discworld" books to follow. If you don't really enjoy it, you won't have wasted your money.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 17, 2011 11:07 PM GMT


Life Beyond the Airing Cupboard
Life Beyond the Airing Cupboard
by John Barclay
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A charming book, 31 Oct 2010
The first thing that becomes clear about this book is that it is not a typical, ghost-written sports star's "autobiography". This is partly because it is not a formal autobiography but mainly because John Barclay has clearly written this book himself and, as a result, his character shines through and I think that this is what makes the book such a delight.

It is not really an autobiography, more a collection of incidents, vignettes, musings and observations. Nevertheless, there is a narrative of sorts, with the pieces arranged chronologically from childhood to the present day. There are also recurring themes of a love of (indeed, need for) peace and solitude, a fear of failure, the spectre of depression and the importance of love, cricket, fishing and faith. And although its author was a cricketer and cricket administrator and the book will, primarily, be of interest to cricket lovers, it is not a cricket book, just as James Herriott's books were not veterinary books and Gervase Phinn's books are not school inspecting books.

Despite each chapter being a stand-alone piece, and much of the subject-matter being the stuff of everyday life, the book remains compelling. It provides us with an insight into some of the more notable and controversial cricket tours of the relatively recent past whilst reminding us that sportspeople are human beings like the rest of us with all our hopes, fears and foibles. It is a true joy to read and well recommended to any cricket lover.


Car Ad Music
Car Ad Music
Price: £11.96

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If only car ads did sound like this, 29 Mar 2010
This review is from: Car Ad Music (Audio CD)
The music on this CD is unlike any car advert I've ever seen, which is a pity: it would make watching television a much more enjoyable experience. It does feel like music to drive to, though, summoning images of wide open spaces and constant motion.

B J Cole's pedal steel guitar takes centre-stage for many of the tracks, drenching them with blues feeling and African spirit. The album is held together, though, by the deep, resonant heartbeat of Wobble's subterranean bass-lines. Along the way there are contributions from various woodwinds, percussion and Harry Beckett's instantly recognisable trumpet. The whole combines into an album which evokes many different thoughts and feelings, whilst maintaining the unity provided by that heartbeat that sucks the listener in.

It is difficult to pigeon-hole any of Jah Wobble's albums, with their combination of trance-like rhythms, jazz improvisation and "world", pop and dub influences and this one is no exception. It fits in well with its predecessors whilst bringing its own new contribution. It is one of Jah Wobble's best, to date.


A Landing on the Sun
A Landing on the Sun
by Michael Frayn
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.59

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Frayn's finest?, 12 April 2009
This review is from: A Landing on the Sun (Paperback)
I love this book: it is beautiful and absorbing. Is it the perfect novel, I wonder? Part detective thriller, part procedural, part love story, part philosophy, part comedy, all compelling. From the first sentence in which the narrator, Jessel, sits in his Whitehall office musing upon his work as he starts another week with another new file, you are drawn into the intriguing lives of the protagonists: Jessel, former Civil-Servant Stephen Summerchild and academic Elizabeth Serafin.

As Jessel digs deeper into the files and looks further into the mysterious case of Summerchild's death, so the parallels with his own life become evident and his future becomes entwined with the events of the past. There is much musing on the nature of happiness which, ironically, perhaps, gives a feel of melancholia and some of the book's beauty. It also provides substance that stays with you after you have read it.

I read this book twice in quick succession: once at breakneck speed, carried along by its page-turning nature and then again more slowly, so I could savour every nuance of humour and melancholia and wallow in the lives and minds of the characters. No doubt I shall read it again, several times, in future for the sheer enjoyment.


New World
New World
Price: £14.06

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Moving hearts; moving feet, 9 April 2009
This review is from: New World (Audio CD)
Having released an energetic live album in 2008 and a Motown tribute in 2007, the James Taylor Quartet return to the sort of classy jazz-funk that was evident on their 2006 release "A Taste of Cherry". As ever, their sound is instantly recognisable but has moved on again and, whereas the new element in "A Taste of Cherry" was brought by Nigel Price's guitar work, here the defining sound is added by Nick Smart's beautiful horn arrangements.

The other progression for this album is the huge variety of sounds and styles which are covered, without ever losing a sense of continuity. Mr Taylor's trademark Hammond organ is joined by a number of other keyboard sounds, such as the Fender Rhodes electric piano, the Hohner Clavinet and a Bluthner grand piano all of which expand the JTQ sound.

The album begins with a fierce statement of intent as organ doubles bass and Adam Betts's crashing drums set the pace for "Blacksmith" before colour is added by flute and Rhodes. Later on the album is a sort of accompanying piece in "Stonemason" where the sledgehammer drums accompany a driving, Brian Auger-esque jazz-rock tune.

Next is the dreamy "Rochester Raining", a classy piece of fusion which begins with an evocation of rain but soon picks up into something sunnier, in a similar vein to the title track.

"Same Old Fool" is the first of two tracks to feature the vocals of Corrina Greyson and is a funky workout with a Donald Byrd feel. The other is the party funk of "Get on Your Feet", which makes you want to do just that and is likely to be a live favourite.

"Inner Mystic Love" is a beautiful, piano-led samba that makes moving irresistible, whilst also being highly evocative. Later, the grand piano is used in more reflective mood for "Blue Lady", an affecting ballad of introspective delights.

The breakneck, cop show funk of "Hotwire" leads into the sophisticated jazz-funk of "The Jazz Cafe Theme" before the album closes on a truly uplifting note, as the grand piano takes the lead again for the gospel-inflected "Milk and Honey" which has echoes of Ramsey Lewis, Billy Taylor and even Nina Simone.

The JTQ continue to plough their own little niche, making records that will be bought by their in-the-know fans but escaping the notice of the majority of the record-buying public. Which is a pity because music like this deserves to be heard, having the musicianship of jazz and the accessibility of rock or pop. It is a cliche that musicians always declare in interviews that their latest album is their best and yet, in this case, that might just be true. It is certainly a collection of very fine tunes which are brilliantly played and has the power to move both emotionally and physically.


Double Bill: Forty Years On: and A Woman of No Importance
Double Bill: Forty Years On: and A Woman of No Importance
by Alan Bennett
Edition: Audio CD

26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect Plays; Perfect Performances, 4 Sep 2008
The version of "Forty Years On" presented here is by far and away my favourite version. Sir John Gielgud is perfect as the retiring, slightly doddery Head Master and a young(ish) Alan Bennett is convincing as the junior master, Mr Tempest, who wishes he could put his hands on the choir's parts. Paul Eddington, Norah Nicholson and Dorothy Reynolds provide wonderful performances, as well.

It is a complex play, its play and sketches within a play needing some attention to keep up with. It is satirical but affectionate; dripping with nostalgia whilst, at the same time, gently lampooning old institutions and values. "The Breed": those perpetrators of snobbery with violence are dealt with scathingly but the passing of their times, full of certainties and standards seems regretted, although it is necessary. But it was ever thus: in the allegorical school, Albion House, as the Head Master, with his out of date standards ("standards always are out of date - that is what makes them standards") is replaced by the progressive Mr Franklin, so he rightly points out that Franklin, too, will one day be thought stuffy and old-fashioned.

The play is dense with jokes and allusions and it is a joy to be able to listen to it again and again on CD: particularly since the various scenes are indexed. There can be few better sources of one-liners, particularly in the Oscar Wilde pastiche, close to the start of the play. Although the recent "History Boys" has been seen as a return to a "school play", "Forty Years On" remains fairly unique for its Englishness, ambitions structure, its humour and its nostalgia. It is a beautiful piece of writing, beautifully performed.

The affecting monologue "A Woman of No Importance" at first seems as if it couldn't be further from the revue-like feel and ensemble playing of "Forty Years On" but there are similar themes of nostalgia and a slight sadness. Just as Albion House is now a fairly minor, unimportant Public School, so Margret Schofield is just another ordinary woman. A Woman of No Importance, as the title says, and yet, of course, everyone has their own little impact on the world and is important in their own way. Her ramblings are, of course, quite captivating, like a sort of aging, female Pooter.

Patricia Routledge's performance is very sensitive, convincing and affecting and may be the best thing that she has ever done: her Hyacinth Bucket and Vera Small characters are caricatures by comparison. And yet, for all the sadness and sensetivity, this is still a very funny and warm piece in the "Talking Heads" style that would be so successful for Alan Bennett.

A double bill to be savoured. Two gems from one of our greatest living playwrights; both superbly realised. The only downside is the way the plays are not each on their own CD, so that if you listen to "A Woman of No Importance" you are rudely jarred at the end by the opening bars of the introduction to "Forty Years On". If you wish to listen to "Forty Years On" you must skip through several tracks to do so and then change discs part way through. This is a distinct irritation and I considered deducting a star. That would be unfair to the playwright and the actors, however: these are essential recordings and the BBC's dodgy formatting cannot alter that.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 5, 2014 10:55 PM GMT


Real Fast Food
Real Fast Food
by Nigel Slater
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Cookbook Every Home Should Have, 9 July 2008
This review is from: Real Fast Food (Paperback)
Nigel Slater is an absolute genius with the ability to describe the joy of preparing good food and convey the passion he feels for food. He teaches us to think about getting something enjoyable to eat, rather than merely following a recipe. This passion and philosophy is evident in all of his books but it is this one, in particular, that everyone should own: no-one can claim to be too short of time to use the ideas in this book or claim to be too inexperienced to try. And for those that are a little inexperienced, there is plenty of information about recommended equipment, storecupboard ingredients and ways of approaching cooking that take the worry out of preparing food ("oh no! I don't have a grapefruit knife! How will I cope?)

Some of the "recipes" in this book would hardly count as that in most people's minds, since he gives suggestions for sandwich fillings and arrangements of fresh fruit and the like. But that is the point: at the right time, very simply assembled food is perfect for the occasion. And he does have many, many "proper" recipes, all of which can, more or less, go from ingredients to table within half an hour.

Like all of Nigel's books (and it has to be "Nigel", not "Mr Slater": his style of writing is so friendly, so warm, so enthusiastic and so personal that you feel you have known him for years), this is not about slavishly following recipes, weighing ingredients to the nearest microgram but about getting a feel for food and using recipes as guides to making the food you want to eat; food that nourishes body and soul.

So many cookbooks come out as television tie-ins and are packed with glossy photos but, after one or two recipes are tried for novelty, are consigned to the kitchen bookshelf, never to be opened again. This book, on the other hand can bee used every day to produce quick but satisfying and delicious food. For that alone, in a world where to many people "home cooking" is putting a readymeal in the microwave, Nigel deserves a Knighthood.


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