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GlynLuke (York UK)
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John Betjeman Collected Poems
John Betjeman Collected Poems
by John Betjeman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.49

5.0 out of 5 stars "I wish I'd had more sex", 1 Feb. 2015
In a televised interview a little before his death, poet laureate John Betjeman was asked if he had any regrets. After a thoughtful pause, the above was his delightful and honest answer.
Delightful and honest are two words that can easily apply to his poetry and prose, both of which was prolific. In this excellent, comprehensive anthology we have his poetry, including, I'm glad to say, his long autobiographical sequence Summoned By Bells, which appropriately closes this 500-page volume.
John Betjeman was no cosy or (perish the thought) 'feelgood' poet, but rather a melancholy, resourceful, witty and unique voice. He may remind one of Larkin or Stevie Smith, or Wordsworth or even Blake at times, but the effect is illusory. He was very much his own man, and this valuable collection shows all aspects of his literary - as well as his personal - character.
Try the following opening lines from the short poem Fetlar 1973:

Fetlar is waiting. At its little quay
Green seaweed stirs and ripples on the swell.
The lone sham castle looks across at Yell,
And from the mainland hilltops you can see
Over to westward, glimmering distantly,
The cliffs of Foula as the clouds dispel.

Apart from perhaps the third line, I wouldn't have known this was by Betjeman. But then, many a poem here is little or nothing like the image we have of the elderly, plum-voiced roamer of hills and vales, hair awry, voice wry with regret or high on hilarity.
There's his beautiful and touching tribute to Oscar Wilde, the equally moving Death in Leamington (which opens the collection) alongside many poems extolling the glories and virtues of Cornwall, the Home Counties, tennis-playing gals, outer London suburbs - Chesterton, another lover of N London suburbs and of the strange allure of the mundane, might have liked these - and the cheerfully camp.
Andrew Motion offers an illuminating, pleasingly brief introduction, and the book should be on every poetry lover's shelf. Betjeman's was often the art that conceals art, but there are enough unknown or surprising gems in these pages to reward those for whom JB has hitherto proved resistible.
He was one person of whom it can justifiably be said that if he hadn't existed, he would have had to have been invented.
I wouldn't want a diet of Betjeman alone, but dipped into every now and then, his poetry - like his prose - is a tonic, and a frequently unsettling experience. For example, take the poem Late-Flowering Lust:

My head is bald, my breath is bad,
Unshaven is my chin,
I have not now the joys I had
When I was young in sin

I run my fingers down your dress
With brandy-certain aim
And you respond to my caress
And maybe feel the same

But I've a picture of my own
On this reunion night,
Wherein two skeletons are shown
To hold each other tight;

Dark sockets look on emptiness
Which once was loving-eyed [...]

There are many more where that came from. He could be macabre, doleful, and as bereft of solace as Larkin any day.

Cosy? I should cocoa!
It could almost be Poe.


[(Little Women: With Good Wives)] [ By (author) Louisa May Alcott, Notes by Siobhan Kilfeather, Introduction by Elaine Showalter ] [August, 1989]
[(Little Women: With Good Wives)] [ By (author) Louisa May Alcott, Notes by Siobhan Kilfeather, Introduction by Elaine Showalter ] [August, 1989]
by Louisa May Alcott
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Meg, Jo, Amy & Beth, 31 Jan. 2015
Middle-aged males are not, I feel sure, meant to like this novel, let alone love it as I do.
I dimly remember it as a BBC serial when I was a boy, and there was more recently a superb, intelligent film with Winona Ryder as Jo, along with Clare Danes, Susan Sarandon and Gabriel Byrne, which encouraged me to read the book, first published in the US in 1868.
Louisa May Alcott grew up in Pennsylvania, with a Transcendentalist father and with Emerson, Thoreau and Hawthorne as house-guests. She is the model for her own immortal creation Jo, the second daughter after ambitious Meg, and before saintly Beth and mischievous Amy, in this free-wheeling 'novel' about their lives and fortunes in nineteenth century Civil War America.
The Penguin Classics edition from 1989 with the cover painting as pictured - with any luck! - above, and excellent Introduction by Elaine Showalter, is the one to get, if you can find it at a reasonable price. It's a comprehensive edition, well printed, and has notes and a Bibliography. Alcott's classic deserves no less.
So what is it about this sometimes maligned book?
It's been derided as twee, sentimental, with nothing really happening in the course of its 500 pages. None of this is true, though some readers these days will undoubtedly find it on the sentimental side. I don't find it so - there's a can-do toughness about both Alcott and her girls that precludes the mawkish, though one is indeed moved to tears at times, since it is a semi-autobographical tale which genuinely tugs at one's heartstrings, but it is never manipulative, nor is the writing ever anything less than witty and involving.
The book has a deceptive artlessness about it, a little like the embroidery the girls make, or the enjoyably melodramatic plays embryonic author Jo writes for them all to perform. Talking of Jo, what a likable, unusual creation she is. A tomboy with a nevertheless feminine streak, a very 'modern' young lady, far more so than many a nineteenth century heroine.
This is no Middlemarch or Jane Eyre, and has no pretence to be. But in its way, Little Women (and 'Good Wives', the unauthorised British title of the second part of Alcott's novel when first published here; both make up this edition) is as much a masterpiece as any novel of its time. Not only that, but its pleasure comes from a well-written, relatively informal tale about basically good, fallible people who are living their lives in the best way they know how, during a Civil War that threatens to tear the family apart - and to some extent does.
I read this over many months, pausing sometimes for weeks, which did not lose any of the book's momentum, since it's a fairly episodic tale, and is easy to dip into after time away from it. In fact, I enjoyed coming back to it with each visit so much that I really didn't want it to end.
This ageing man thinks Little Women is a lovely book, and for me the bottom line, as it were, is always: Is this good writing? A big Yes is my answer.

There's a reason this is a classic. Young or old, male or female, give it a go. You may well be as engrossed as I was - and perhaps finish it sooner, too.


The Anglo-Saxon World: An Anthology (Oxford World's Classics)
The Anglo-Saxon World: An Anthology (Oxford World's Classics)
by Kevin Crossley-Holland
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.39

5.0 out of 5 stars Seafarers, riddles & a letter from Canute, 31 Jan. 2015
This welcome, attractive anthology rivals Michael Alexander's translations from the Anglo-Saxon for Penguin, and neither pales by comparison with the other.
The thing about this Oxford collection is that, to all intents and purposes, it's all here in one volume: the Anglo-Saxon world in all its strange, distant, exploratory beauty and freshness.
Not only that, but two of the era's greatest poems here receive versions worthy of them, The Seafarer and good old Beowulf. Heaney's much more recent and highly praised Beowulf is superb, and Pound's classic Seafarer is wonderful, but these versions have a simple purity and fidelity which marks them out, and makes the reader want to return to them.
Last night I read aloud - people still do this! - The Seafarer, and it sounded just right (more down to Crossley-Holland than my rendition, I'm sure).
After a brief introduction, you get 300 pages, in separate sections, of Heroic Poems, Laws, a short selection from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Elegies, Christian Poems, Riddles, A Sermon, Exploration, and much more besides.
All the old 'hits' are here: not only the haunting Seafarer, but The Wanderer, Bede's Death Song, the famous Caedmon's Hymn, The Battle of Maldon, The Dream of the Rood...plus letters from Pope Gregory and King Canute.
Sensibly, KC-H introduces and explains each section, a user-friendly format which allows a natural reading experience, with (surprisingly perhaps) no end-notes, or intrusive footnotes, only a brief Bibliography for those who wish, like the seafarer, to explore further...
I have Crossley-Holland's poems, his excellent Norse Myths, and his award-winning Arthurian trilogy, and he strikes me as a writer who would never let the reader down in any way. Here he manages to do a whole world justice, and for that I am grateful.

Highly recommended.


Medieval and Renaissance Stained Glass: In the Victoria and Albert Museum
Medieval and Renaissance Stained Glass: In the Victoria and Albert Museum
by Paul Williamson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £26.31

5.0 out of 5 stars Sacred & secular, 29 Jan. 2015
When I think of the misnamed Middle Ages - 'Hey, we're living in the Middle Ages, folks!' - one of the aspects of the period that comes to mind first is bright colour. That, and a tantalisingly unknowable vivacity.
Whatever the trials and tribulations, sufferings and pleasures, experienced by the people who lived in those centuries, they were obviously anything but reticent when it came to colour. That vivacity again.
There again, as G. K. Chesterton enthusiastically - if disingenuously - said about the Catholic Church and why he embraced it, its sheer colour and decorativeness was 'optimistic', something he loved about it. While I wouldn't go along with quite such a breezy view of any hierarchical religious structure, he certainly had a point. (He usually did.)
Here in these 150 or so pages are dozens of colourful, decorative, expressive, even optimistic examples of the art of medieval times as portrayed in their glorious stained glass. It's a book to dazzle the senses.
In this large, sumptuous book (I have the hardcover edition) the reproductions are, to use modern parlance, to die for. It is sensibly formatted, with a brief, utilitarian introduction by author Paul Williamson of the V&A, but with full notes on the reproductions at the back, and captions for each one in the main body of the book.
It is tempting to say that an evening spent - by firelight? - browsing this feast of a volume would give you as clear an idea of life in the 'Middle Ages' as any text, and there is some truth in it. The secular as well as the sacred is fully represented, though naturally the latter takes precedence. There is grandeur here as well as humility, pain alongside pleasure, the divine and the mundane. As has been rightly said of Chaucer: 'All human life is there'.
One thing I feel sure of, which this gorgeous book does nothing to dispel, is that the people of medieval times (whose times were 'modern' to them) lived fully in the present, as many of us try to do and too often fail.

A humbling but beautiful book.


Enescu: Piano Music (Piano Sonata No.1/ Piano Suite No.2)
Enescu: Piano Music (Piano Sonata No.1/ Piano Suite No.2)
Offered by Naxos Direct UK
Price: £4.75

5.0 out of 5 stars Exquisite, 27 Jan. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
The first movement of the Piano Sonata No.1 by George Enescu (1881-1955) which opens this superb disc, is a measured Allegro molto moderato e grave, and is quite astonishing, and worth the price on its own. What comes after is equally riveting, which will be no surprise to anyone who has succumbed to the manifold attractions of the Romanian composer's music.
Following a bouncy Presto, the concluding Andante molto espressivo is absolutely glorious, a pianistic exploration of an idea that has all the mesmeric beauty and inspiration of, say, Scriabin or Ravel at their considerable best.
The sonata is a marvellous work. But so are the two brief, pensive, and rather beautiful Pieces Impromptues, and the early Suite No.2 in four movements.
Celebrated Romanian pianist Matei Varga plays with lucid attention to every detail of these lovely pieces, and Naxos have come up with yet another recording (from 2008) that can stand beside any others in the catalogue - though Enescu's music generally is bafflingly under-recorded. That's why this disc is to be treasured by we Enescu buffs, and with any luck by newcomers to the twentieth century genius from Liveni Virnav in Northern Romania.
The booklet notes are excellent, and the recording leaves nothing to be desired.
This is exquisite music by a neglected master.

Gladly and urgently recommended.


The Best of Gene Vincent and his Blue Caps
The Best of Gene Vincent and his Blue Caps

4.0 out of 5 stars Sweet Gene Vincent, 24 Jan. 2015
The late Gene Vincent was (along with Eddie Cochran) John Peel's favourite fifties rock'n'roller, and Ian Dury thought enough of the old reprobate to write a song about him, the impressionistic 'portrait' Sweet Gene Vincent. You''ll also find a stunning version of Vincent's BlueJean Bop on Paul McCartney's superb rock'n'roll covers album Run Devil Run.
Here are twenty reasons why Gene was one of the most viscerally authentic of all the US fifties rockers, wilder and less gentle than Cochran, scruffier than Elvis, less frenetic than Jerry Lee - but then, nobody was as frenetic as Jerry Lee!
This is early rock and roll at its most basic, brief teen ditties that occasionally rise to anthemic status, for example Who Slapped John - what a great title that still is - or his most famous track Be-Bop-A-Lula, both present and correct on this 1988 compilation in excellent sound, with accompanying booklet and notes.
My personal favourite Say Mama is here, along with essentials such as Gonna Back Up Baby, Lotta Lovin', Git It, and Wild Cat.
You can see why Dury appreciated Vincent so much, the two of them being in many ways kindred spirits. The man could sing, too. You had to be able to really sing in those days, or you wouldn't have lasted five minutes. Fats, Jerry Lee, Buddy, Chuck, Eddie and Elvis wouldn't be the legends they now are if their voices hadn't been so damn memorable.
These tracks take us from Gene's early hits in 1956 to his later, more thoughtful recordings up to 1959. It's enough, though the disc's length only runs to just over 48 minutes, making it less than great value, even if the music itself is all worth hearing.
For a starter collection of the too often forgotten man of the classic rock'n'roll years, this will do nicely.
As Ian Dury sang:

Sweet Gene Vincent
Young and old and gone...


Enescu: Complete Violin Sonatas 1 [Axel Strauss, Ilya Poletaev] [Naxos: 8572691]
Enescu: Complete Violin Sonatas 1 [Axel Strauss, Ilya Poletaev] [Naxos: 8572691]
Price: £6.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Enescu in essence, 23 Jan. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I tend to think sonatas and other small-scale pieces show a composer naked, as it were, and can often reveal his or her genius without the trimmings of full orchestra and the kitchen sink thrown in.
The Romanian genius George Enescu's music is close to my heart, and is as resonant for me as the music of, say, Berg, Delius or Szymanowsi, among twentieth century composers.
These three violin sonatas are not only lovely works, but are played here on this bargain Naxos disc in performances which could hardly be bettered.
Axel Strauss is the violinist, and pianist Ilya Poletaev (who also wrote the superb booklet notes) accompanies. Both are recorded well on this recent 2011 disc.
If you like Enescu already, this will be an essential purchase; if you are new to this most likable, approachable composer, then here might be a rewarding place to start. (I came to Brahms through his chamber music.)
There is at times an obliqueness in Enescu (though never obscurity or coldness) that reminds me of Bax or even Sibelius. On the whole, he manages, in his own unique voice, to straddle late Romanticism and 20th century innovation. For every lushly expressive phrase there is likely to be a moment of slight dissonance or simply a nod to the Third Viennese School.
These works are all well worth getting to know and, if you're like me, to love. The violin of Axel Strauss plays each note with such attention to the mercurial details of this wonderful music that you quite simply know you're in very good hands.
Like Sibelius, Bax, or Berg, you feel you could listen to the best of Enescu - which is most of his oeuvre - and rarely feel you 'know' it. Music that 'keeps on giving' indeed.
The one-movement Violin Sonata in A minor titled 'Torso' is a fourteen-minute work which could stand as a testament to the unpredictable beauty and individuality of this too often neglected composer. Poletaev shines on piano here, as in fact he does throughout.
The captivating third sonata is Enescu indulging his East European heritage to the full, in a tangy 25-minute work in which you can't help but sense there is a gypsy encampment somewhere nearby, the air is scented with someone cooking something spicy, and perhaps a girl and boy begin to dance...its subtitle, after all, is 'Dans le caractere populaire roumain'. You said it, George.
A cherishable recording of four truly fine works by the great Enescu. Spread the word!

Highly recommended.


Run Devil Run
Run Devil Run
Offered by Leisurezone
Price: £5.58

5.0 out of 5 stars Some people like to rock, some people like to roll, 20 Jan. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Run Devil Run (Audio CD)
...but movin' and a-groovin'
gonna satisfy my soul -
let's have a party

Elvis Presley's raucous Party closes this magisterial down the line rock'n'roll album by the Fab One, though it might well have opened it, such is the ebullient, no-holds-barred atmosphere on these fifteen tracks, many of them relatively obscure, three of them McCartney originals.
He's joined by the unexpected combination of Dave Gilmour and Mick Green on guitars, Ian Paice or Dave Mattacks on drums, ever versatile Pete Wingfield on piano, and - on Chuck Berry's (by way of Buddy Holly) Brown Eyed Handsome Man - Chris Hall on a mean accordion.
John Lennon & Paul McCartney were two of the greatest rock singers this country ever produced. Back in Beatles days, both proved as much with such versions of venerable rock'n'roll classics as Slow Down, Dizzy Miss Lizzy, Please Mr Postman, Kansas City, Long Tall Sally, and others. John did his own fifties tribute album long ago, which to these ears left a lot to be desired. This, at last, is Paul's.
It's a triumph.
Made in 1999 (before his voice lost some of its high-note clarity) he concocted an uplifting, often thrilling musical rollercoaster ride through some of the byways of 50s rock songs, as well as a few standards like I Got Stung, All Shook Up, and Gene Vincent's Blue Jean Bop, which opens the record in blazing style.
Lesser known songs are Fats Domino's easy-going Coquette, the rockin' blaster by Larry Williams called She Said Yeah (covered by the Stones on an early LP), the very welcome No Other Baby by obscure British skiffle group The Vipers, a lovely version of Ricky Nelson's Lonesome Town, Big Joe Turner's Honey Hush, a frenetic and breathtaking tour de force by Macca of Little Richard's little heard Shake A Hand, and the first song ever written by Carl Perkins, Movie Magg (not the best track here, but pleasant enough).
His own drab Try Not To Cry is forgettable, but the other McCartney originals are terrific: the Chuck Berry-ish title track and the brilliant What It Is, which would be a standout on any of his albums.
With a well presented booket that includes liner notes by Patrick Humphries and McCartney himself, a resonant cover photo, and superb production by Chris Thomas, this is a high point in Paul's career, as well as a jubilant tribute to the music that got him all shook up in the first place.
If you like Macca - and if you love rock'n'roll - then you can't go wrong with this pretty stunning album.
Who'd have thought?

Well the bluejean bop
Is the bop for me
It's the bop that's done
In the dungaree
You dip your hip
You free your knee...


Stephen Stills
Stephen Stills
Price: £6.40

5.0 out of 5 stars A rose in a fisted glove, 19 Jan. 2015
This review is from: Stephen Stills (Audio CD)
...and the eagle flies with the dove
and if you can't be with the one you love
love the one you're with

So begins the debut album by Stephen Stills, a man with one of the most gruffly soulful voices in rock, and one who hasn't reaped the praise his best solo efforts deserve, and this is one of his best.
He has never had the lustre of fellow ex-Buffalo Springfield Neil Young, nor quite the pedigree of ex-Byrd David Crosby, though at his most inspired he's as fascinating as Young, and arguably much more interesting than Crosby.
I love this record, ten sometimes gospelly songs that represent the real Stills, a singer-guitarist-songwriter of immaculate taste and great musicality.
There isn't a single moment on this 1970 set that is less than rewarding, often thrilling, with Stills' voice soaring above guitars, organ and backing singers -who include Crosby, Nash, John Sebastian, Rita Coolidge, and even good old Mama Cass Elliot.
Things build to a crashing climax on the closing We Are Not Helpless (shades of a certain Neil Young song) with that older-than-his-years voice roaring and soaring above and below the massed choir of abovementioned singers.
On Old Times Good Times, who should crop up on guitar but Jimi Hendrix! Those were the days. On the following Go Back Home, Clapton plays second guitar, while the eloquent, richly textured organ phrasings are provided throughout by the hugely talented Stills himself.
This is one hell of a very fine album, and there was more to come, with Stephen Stills 2, Manassas, and others including the excellent Man Alive.
Too often overlooked, Stills had plenty to say, and never said it more forcefully than on this wonderful record.

Essential.


Enescu: Suite No.3, Village, Suite chatelaine, Voix de la nature
Enescu: Suite No.3, Village, Suite chatelaine, Voix de la nature
Price: £12.61

4.0 out of 5 stars Enescu's pastoral, 18 Jan. 2015
If you're looking for brilliant, gleaming sound, then pass on. If however you want a recording of these nostalgic, pastoral pieces for orchestra which has warmth and passion to spare, then you might like this fairly rare 1988 Marco Polo disc.
The orchestras featured are, appropriately, both Romanian, and at times they exude such an obvious love for this utterly beguiling music that one is very moved.
The 29-minute opening Suite No.3, subtitled "Village", is a marvellous work in five movements, the two slower Moderato ones which follow each other being designated 'penserioso' and 'malinconico'. They add welcome gravitas to this suite in which, as the booklet notes tell us, Enescu remembers the sights and sounds of his childhood in Moldavia.
Suite Chatelaine is ultimately - no pun intended - shattering. It's an unfinished work, but only in the Schubertian sense. In the first of two movements, the awed listener hears thirteen minutes of often intense, dramatic music played with all guns blazing by the enthused Romanian musicians, while the shorter second movement features flute and woodwinds in an impressionist musical landscape which is both haunting and bittersweet.
The eight-minute Voix de la nature - a title that speaks for itself - has a charm all its own too, strings and woodwinds then bold brass interveaving in a tapestry of Cezanne-like multiple perspective that does justice to its blatantly expressive title.
I love this recording, for all its less than perfect sound. It really is a small price to pay for such committed music making, and conductors Georgescu and Conta should be congratulated for holding it all together (no mean feat in Enescu's ever shifting sound world) and one only wishes they could have had access to better facilities, since the playing of the two Romanian orchestras lacks for nothing.
Sometimes a recording remains special because of rather than despite its flaws, and I wouldn't be without this one.

Music: ***** Performances: **** Sound: ***

Wonderful music, lovingly played.


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