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John Fraser "John" (St Albans)

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Song Man: A Melodic Adventure, or My Single-minded Approach to Songwriting
Song Man: A Melodic Adventure, or My Single-minded Approach to Songwriting
by Will Hodgkinson
Edition: Paperback

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sing-a-long-a-Hodgkinson, 22 April 2008
In an age when people are desperately trying to get on TV for no reason other than to "become famous" it's pretty inspiring to read a book by someone keen to follow a dream and better themselves for no reason other than the love of it. Will Hodgkinson learnt how to play guitar for his last book and this time around he's trying to learn how to write a song. It's fair to say that he didn't exactly succeed on that front (as a visit to his myspace page might attest) but he tells his story with such infectious enthusiasm, coupled with a rich vein in self-deprecation, which means that you can't help but root for him as he follows his quest.

Much as he did in Guitar Man, he also unearths some great advise from a interesting array of characters - from the more obvious 60s guitar heroes of which he's such a fan, like Keith Richards and Ray Davies, to the likes of Andrew Lloyd Webber, and a eccentric recluse by the name of Lawrence who used to front an obscure 90s indie band.

Inspiring stuff - and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny. Just don't expect to see him performing at the 02 arena any time soon!

The Trials Of Van Occupanther
The Trials Of Van Occupanther
Price: £6.93

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars favourite album of the year, 21 Feb. 2008
Hard to know where to start really - by far and away the most enjoyable listen in many a year.

There's so much to single it out: the beautiful blend of harmonies and the bittersweet vocal quality is incredibly moving. The beautiful arrangements with clean, deep bass notes, driving along playful, occasionally whimsical harmonies. The incredibly enigmatic, almost impenetrable lyrics that bring to mind 19th century images of American landscapes, a simpler yet harder time and a heaightened appreciation of nature. Midlake aren't really doing anything new, but that's not the point. they are, in a sense, a spiritual successor to The Band, with echoes in many of their songs of the earthy, historical mythologising of tracks like King Harvest will Surely Come and The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down. And though it sounds strange, there's also a hint of Fleetwood Mack, and the rock/folk sound of Rumours in here somewhere. And there's something about the delivery and emotion of the songs that brings to mind Thom Yorke on Bends-era Radiohead.

I really don't think I've ever listened to album as exclusively as I have this one - I literally couldn't bring myself to listen to anything else for about three months, as it else paled in comparison. And yet is have never tired.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 10, 2008 9:42 AM BST

Pavel and I
Pavel and I
by Dan Vyleta
Edition: Hardcover

32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Graham Greene meets Charles Dickens, in post-war Berlin, 21 Feb. 2008
This review is from: Pavel and I (Hardcover)
It's very hard to believe that this is Dan Vyleta's first novel, and more surprising when you find out that he's German and he wrote it in English.

It tells the story of ex US army officer Pavel, as enigmatic a protagonist as I've come across in a long time, and his entanglement in a conspiracy in occupied Berlin in the bitterly cold winter of 1946. There is a thriller element to the story that draws in an extraordinary range of characters: street urchins straight out of Oliver Twist, a dead Soviet midget, a beautiful and beguiling prostitute and a grotesque British Army Colonel. That said, it would be wrong to describe it as an out-and-out thriller.

What Pavel & I is, is an amazing pageturning literary novel, a rare combination in this day and age when so many "literary" writers seem almost plot-phobic. And it has atmosphere and a sense of place in spades - reminiscent of the haunting cinematography of Carol Reed's filming of Greene's The Third Man. It's the best first novel I've read in a long time, and will haunt you long after final page is turned.

Flight Of The Conchords: The Complete HBO First Season [DVD] [2007]
Flight Of The Conchords: The Complete HBO First Season [DVD] [2007]
Dvd ~ Bret McKenzie
Offered by Bridge_Records
Price: £3.94

64 of 69 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Motherflippin Genius, 26 Oct. 2007
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Every once in a while a comedy series comes along that seems to rewrite the comedy rule book while making you wonder "how come no-one's ever done anything like this before?"

The Flight of the Conchords is one such series. In a way, it's a great throwback to the musical format - people breaking into song in the middle of a conversation for no reason - and the humour that can be had with that conceit alone is immense (the moment when a song kicks off is always very funny.) But the structure and sheer hilarity of the songs (on the one hand pitch-perfect parodies of specific genres of songwriting and on the other, a mixture of deeply inappropriate lyrics and inventive surreality) bears repeated scrutiny and really is tears-streaming-down-your-face funny. It's also worth pointing out that the New Zealand accent certainly seems to add an additional layer of comedy to a lot of it. That and Jermaine and Brett's relentlessly deadpan delivery. Glorious stuff. bring on series two.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 8, 2009 6:53 PM BST

The Gum Thief
The Gum Thief
by Douglas Coupland
Edition: Paperback

1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A joy, 26 Oct. 2007
This review is from: The Gum Thief (Paperback)
Another treat for Coupland fans, the Gum Thief is not as bleak or mean as Jpod, and more life-affirming and occasionally wistful than a lot of his canon - akin to Eleanor Rigby, in tone, perhaps. The device of the seriously bad novel-within-a-novel "Glove Pond" is hilarious and it's a credit to Coupland's writing that he manages to give it heart and style while essentially remaining a bad unpublishable novel at heart.

What makes Coupland so relevant is his relentless engagement in the here and now, articulated not in the contrived über-post-modern way that some might expect, but in his generosity of spirit towards his characters and the everydayness of their lives. There's a richness in everyones experience of the world, he appears to be saying, and we don't often acknowledge that.

Aside from this, every page throws up a moment of either poignancy or laugh-out-loud embarassment. The Gum Thief also manages to have one of the most moving endings of any book I've read this year, despite being the final chapter of the supposedly dire novel Glove Pond.

So, another treat for Coupland fans, and for those who've never read him before, a perfect introduction to the man at his most beguiling.

On Brick Lane
On Brick Lane
by Rachel Lichtenstein
Edition: Hardcover

18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bringing History to life, 3 Sept. 2007
This review is from: On Brick Lane (Hardcover)
So much seems to have been written about Brick Lane in the last few years, most notably Monica Ali's novel. But this wonderful book tells a completely different side of the story of one of London's most famous streets.

Rachel Lichtenstein, herself an artist, seems to have assembled the most amazing collection of people - both current inhabitants and people whose families have been involved with the area over the last couple of centuries: Jewish jewellers, workers at the old Truman Brewery, market workers, artists and writers whose lives have been touched by the street's history in some way. She tells their stories with great empathy and, while there is an authorial voice which carries the narrative along, she manages to let each person recount their stories with such freshness that you get a real sense of history unfolding. By the end of the book, you feel that this strange cast of characters have become personal friends.
It put me in mind of David Kynaston's wondeful book, Austerity Britain.
One of my books of the year.

Curb Your Enthusiasm: Complete HBO Season 4 [DVD] [2005]
Curb Your Enthusiasm: Complete HBO Season 4 [DVD] [2005]
Dvd ~ Larry David
Offered by comedyfactory
Price: £6.80

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Too funny for words, 3 Sept. 2007
Here we are on series four and still Larry is getting into scrape after scrape, digging hole within hole and generally finding the world utterly intolerable to deal with. But when his dissatisfaction with life is so utterly compelling and painfully funny, we really shouldn't complain.
Is the formula wearing a little thin? Well, maybe, but it's still the funniest thing on television.

Mushrooms: River Cottage Handbook No.1
Mushrooms: River Cottage Handbook No.1
by John Wright
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.48

161 of 164 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A hunting we will go..., 3 Sept. 2007
My wife had a mushroom epiphany last year when stood in the middle of a wood in the Chilterns surrounded by all sorts of Fungi: If we were able to tell which was deadly poisonous and which deliciously edible, we could pick away to our hearts content, dash home and make soups and p‚tés and all sorts of mushroomy things for weeks to come! As it was, we didn't know a toadstall from a chanterelle and returned home empty-handed, but therein resolved to investigate what guidebooks were on offer. We were rather disappointed by the rather earnest, flatly-written books we found, often with rather dated illustrations or an absence of recipes (surely the point of cooking them is eating them!) and absolutely no sense of the fun and excitement that might be had foraging for your dinner of an autumn afternoon. So we never got around to it. But as this autumn approaches, we were reminded of the coming mushroom season by the Guardian's River Cottage Mushroom guide (bascially a little taster of the book itself) and immediately realised that the handbook was just what we were looking for. And so it arrived in the post full of lovely pictures, concise descriptions and brilliant recipes all bound together by John Wright's strangely humourous writing style (parts are actually laugh-out-loud funny.) We went out to Hampstead Heath yesterday and immediately found a good hoard with which which we made some fantastic mushroom tart. We're hoping it will become a regular jaunt over the coming months and it's all thanks to this great little book.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 19, 2010 6:03 PM BST

Coward on the Beach: 1 (Dick Coward 1)
Coward on the Beach: 1 (Dick Coward 1)
by James Delingpole
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.99

24 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thrilling Stuff, 10 Aug. 2007
I must confess to having felt a little uneasy at the prospect of Coward on the Beach: I mean, do really need an "updated Flashman" as it pipes on the blurb? Well, if this first installment is anything to go by, yes, we really do. I've devoured all the Flashman books over the years and have recently had a sense that they don't quite have the same zip and verve as they once did. Delingpole, who I've never read before (his previous novels didn't register on the radar to be hoenst) manages to write a very funny story, verging on the pastiche, in a very similar vein to MacDonald Fraser. But despite the larger than life characters and extraordinary plot twists, he manages to imbue the book with a sense of real respect for what the soldiers of the second world war achieved: their amazing spirit and backbone and the honorable way in which they offered their lives. He also brilliantly describes the battle scenes - very Band of Brothers - and tells the story of the assault on the Fort at Port En Bessin with a historian's eye for detail. I really can't wait for the next installment.

by Nirpal Singh Dhaliwal
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

24 of 29 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Deeply unpleasant, but not in an interesting way, 12 Mar. 2007
This review is from: Tourism (Paperback)
It seems really disturbing that in an age dominated by celebrity TV and soul-baring Hello-style interviews, even supposed "literary fiction" is not immune. The reason I say this? Well, there is no conceivable reason that this sleazy, half-hearted attempt at a novel would have made it this far were it not for the deeply unpleasant, no-holds barred coverage received by its deeply misogynistic author and his long-suffering (though equally depressing partner) in the Daily Mail and elsewhere.

As a novel, it just doesn't work. Dhaliwal seems desperate to ape his literary heroes but in doing so is reaching way beyond his own means and falls flat (as his prose) on his face, over and over again. And as the last reviewer suggests, the principal character is so obviously autobiographical - there is no difference between "Puppy" and "Nirpal" - that one can only conclude that he is a deeply mean-spirited, deliberately vindictive and unpleasant person. Just not in an interesting way. And to steal from another reviewer he's guilty of "clinically disecting races and the sexes into predefined stereotypes." Here, Dhaliwal mistakes being "controversial" with having something important to say. He has nothing to add to the debate - about identity, race, modern life - at least nothing beyond an A-level essay attempt. (For a more interesting and informed look at these issues someone like Sarfraz Manzoor, in the Guardian, leaves him for dead.)

Alas, there's nothing here of substance aside from an ego the side of a house and an aspiration that significantly outweighs his talent.

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