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Does the Noise in My Head Bother You?: The Autobiography
Does the Noise in My Head Bother You?: The Autobiography
by Steven Tyler
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars You cannot live as he has lived and not end up like this..., 20 Aug 2012
If Steven Tyler didn't exist, rock'n'roll would have to invent him. The whirling dervish Aerosmith singer is the distilled essence of sex and drugs and rock'n'roll, from the tip of his stack heeled boots to the top of his haystack mane. He's the Screamin' Demon with the lecherous cackle, the Keef-style appetites and the swagger-jagger charisma that money just can't buy. And boy, he ain't bluffing. He's lived the life for nearly 40 years and now he's telling it like it was, is and - as he freely admits - probably always will be. If Tyler is the essence of rock, "Does The Noise In My Head Bother You?" is the essence of Steven Tyler.

Reading this book is like cracking open the top of Tyler's head and peering inside. It's like an explosion in a fireworks factory in there. Thoughts cartwheel off in all directions, stories rocket around and explode in a blaze of colour and everything happens at once. You'll find yourself going back to re-read bits because he flies off on so many tangents that you sometimes won't have a clue - not one single clue - what he's going on about. But as the man himself says, "Chronology? Fuggedaboutit!" You'll also find yourself coming up for air from time to time just to get a break from the sheer....well, Tylerness of it all, because both the subject matter (sex, drugs, drugs, rock'n'roll, sex and drugs, in roughly that order) and the hyperventilating prose style (he writes as he speaks) can be a bit overwhelming if taken in Tyler-sized doses.

But we learn a lot: his early life and musical influences, his 40-year love-hate relationship with his 'brother' Joe Perry, the insanity of life on the road, the $20 million that disappeared up his nose, the path strewn with walking wounded and his regrets about being a bad husband and father.

But you know what? As he unrepentantly surveys the train-wreck of his life, you're still rooting for him.


The Houndsditch Murders and the Siege of Sidney Street
The Houndsditch Murders and the Siege of Sidney Street
by Donald Rumbelow
Edition: Paperback
Price: 12.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Anarchy in the UK?, 9 July 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Foreign terrorists murdering innocent people on the streets of London. Public anxiety about migrant communities failing to integrate. Press criticism of the government's `open door' immigration policy. Sound familiar? It was all happening a hundred years ago, when the peace of Edwardian London was shattered by a series of terrorist attacks that have uncanny parallels today.

The Siege of Sidney Street, in which scores of armed policemen and a company of Scots Guards fought a ferocious gun battle with two anarchist gunmen in the East End of London in 1911, is slipping from the public memory. It shouldn't. If you replace the word "Jewish" with the word "Muslim", most of the newspaper reports of these events read as if they were written last week.

The events in Sidney Street were part of an upsurge of contemporary urban terrorism which Simon Webb has examined in Dynamite, Treason & Plot: Terrorism in Victorian & Edwardian London. Here, Donald Rumbelow focuses on the Sidney Street siege and the two events that preceded it: the Tottenham Outrage and the Houndsditch Murders. All three incidents involved the same gang of Latvian Jewish anarchists (although in actual fact most of them were Bolsheviks) who had sought political asylum in London and who were living, in various permutations and in varying degrees of squalor, in the East End.

The Tottenham Outrage (and what a splendidly melodramatic Edwardian name that is) was a botched wages snatch that took place on 23 January 1909 at a factory opposite Tottenham police station. It soon became a running gun battle as the two gunmen were chased by police and an ever-growing crowd of bystanders across 6 miles of north London. At one point the gunmen even hijacked a tram and exchanged fire with a policeman as he raced alongside them on a horse-drawn milk wagon. It would all seem like something out of a Keystone Cops movie were it not for the fact that 23 people were shot by the gunmen, two of them - a policeman and a 10 year old boy - fatally, before they turned the guns on themselves.

In December 1910, still short of funds and abiding by the Bolshevik principle that the capitalists themselves should bankroll the revolution, members of the same gang rented a couple of houses that backed on to a Houndsditch jeweller's shop and started to hack their way through the party wall. They were overheard by a policeman who called reinforcements. The gang shot their way out, leaving three policemen dead and two crippled for life.

With public outrage mounting, the pressure on Scotland Yard to get results was immense. London was flooded with policemen and, holed up in the East End, various gang members were arrested one by one until the last two were betrayed (probably, thinks Rumbelow, by a former landlord) and traced to a shabby rented room at 100 Sidney Street, in Stepney. The ensuing siege ended only when the house caught fire; the Home Secretary, Winston Churchill, who controversially attended the scene and was photographed peeping round a corner at the height of the battle, resplendent in top hat and frock coat, refused to let the fire brigade tackle the blaze. The charred bodies of the gunmen - who both, in a macabre coincidence, had been decapitated when the building collapsed - were found in the ruins.

The aftermath is equally interesting. Most of the gang were brought to trial for the Houndsditch murders but the judge ruled that the uncorroborated word of the surviving witnesses was not enough to secure a conviction and they all walked free. The Edwardian public was as incredulous as we would be a century later, when the seeming impotence of the law has meant that the UK is still perceived as a 'soft touch' for terrorists.

Clearly, `The Houndsditch Murders and the Siege of Sidney Street' is a sensational story and Rumbelow does it full justice. This is a fascinating and detailed account of the events and Rumbelow brings them vividly to life. He is also excellent on the social and political context, tracing the murky origins and often shifting allegiances of the anarchist gangs and the fanatics who made them up, one of whom went on to become one of Stalin's most murderous henchmen. The main difficulty is keeping track of the various terrorists. They flit in and out of the narrative under a bewildering variety of aliases, many of which they swapped among themselves, and no-one has ever been certain how many there were, let alone what they were all called. Indeed, the whole affair was so complex that to this day no-one is really sure if the gang's leader, the infamous `Peter the Painter', actually existed or was simply an alias used at various times by different people. Rumbelow sensibly provides a list of characters at the start of the book but, even so, you'll find yourself flipping back every few pages to pick up the thread again, as baffled now as Scotland Yard evidently was at the time.

But this is a minor criticism of a fascinating book which anyone with an interest in Victorian and Edwardian criminology, or the political and social history of the time, will enjoy. It is also one which has echoes that are all too familiar today. Highly recommended.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 25, 2012 8:00 PM BST


The Making of Modern Britain
The Making of Modern Britain
by Andrew Marr
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.00

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars It's History Lite but it's Still Fun, 16 May 2011
This is a joint review together with Marr's 'The History of Modern Britain', the companion volume which deals with the post-war history of the UK.

First, the good points. Marr is a very engaging writer with a good eye for an anecdote. Both books are rich in period detail and cover areas (for example, the rise and fall of the music hall) which aren't usually dealt with in general histories of this period. He also has a neat way of starting with something small (a minor incident, a now forgotten personality) and using that as the introduction to a far bigger picture, tying the personal or incidental to more familiar historical themes. This makes them perfect bedside books - you'll find yourself dipping into them for the pleasure of spending an hour or so in Marr's company.

And the bad? The fact that they are perfect bedtime reading means that they are pretty undemanding and, at times, superficial; the two world wars, for example, are cantered through with indecent haste. Similarly, there is no original research; no-one with a passing knowledge of 20th century British history will learn anything new here. And, as others have noted, they also contain quite a few factual errors. Some readers might notice a bit of political bias, too (Marr cheerfully admits to being a "raving Lefty" as a student) and there are bits - the rise of the trade unions, for example, or 1960s counter-culture - which read as if Marr never really left the editor's chair at the Independent.

However, if you accept that Marr is a journalist rather than a historian and that these are essentially tv tie-ins (albeit top-notch ones) rather than History-with-a-capital-H then you'll find plenty to enjoy. Recommended.


A History of Modern Britain
A History of Modern Britain
by Andrew Marr
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars It's History Lite but it's Still Fun, 16 May 2011
This is a joint review together with Marr's 'The Making of Modern Britain', the companion volume which deals with the history of the UK up to VE Day.

First, the good points. Marr is a very engaging writer with a good eye for an anecdote. Both books are rich in period detail and cover areas (for example, the rise and fall of the music hall) which aren't usually dealt with in general histories of this period. He also has a neat way of starting with something small (a minor incident, a now forgotten personality) and using that as the introduction to a far bigger picture, tying the personal or incidental to more familiar historical themes. This makes them perfect bedside books - you'll find yourself dipping into them for the pleasure of spending an hour or so in Marr's company.

And the bad? The fact that they are perfect bedtime reading means that they are pretty undemanding and, at times, superficial; the two world wars, for example, are cantered through with indecent haste. Similarly, there is no original research; no-one with a passing knowledge of 20th century British history will learn anything new here. And, as others have noted, they also contain quite a few factual errors. Some readers might notice a bit of political bias, too (Marr cheerfully admits to being a "raving Lefty" as a student) and there are bits - the rise of the trade unions, for example, or 1960s counter-culture - which read as if Marr never really left the editor's chair at the Independent.

However, if you accept that Marr is a journalist rather than a historian and that these are essentially tv tie-ins (albeit top-notch ones) rather than History-with-a-capital-H then you'll find plenty to enjoy. Recommended.


Family Britain, 1951-1957 (Tales of a New Jerusalem)
Family Britain, 1951-1957 (Tales of a New Jerusalem)
by David Kynaston
Edition: Paperback
Price: 7.69

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Land of Lost Content?, 26 April 2011
This is the second volume of David Kynaston's monumental social history of post-war Britain and, for both the history buff and the interested layman, this really is a book to treasure. As with the first volume ("Austerity Britain: 1945-51") it uses a huge range of sources - diaries, Mass Observation reports, interviews, etc, all linked together by Kynaston's often wry commentary - to unearth a wealth of facts and anecdotes about daily life in a period of recent history that is already starting to feel like a foreign country.

By using such a vast range of sources - many of them previously unpublished - Kynaston gives us probably the most complete picture we're likely to get of Britain in the mid-1950s. It's a picture of a country that's familiar and yet unfamiliar, like an old black and white photo of your parents taken when they were young. I bought my copy almost 18 months ago and I still dip into it to explore a past which is so evocatively conjured up and described in such wonderful detail. If you've read "Austerity Britain" then you know what to expect; if you haven't, then buy both. This really is history at its very best.


Nokia X3 Red on Black Mobile Phone on O2 Pay As You Go (PAYG)
Nokia X3 Red on Black Mobile Phone on O2 Pay As You Go (PAYG)

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Don't Buy It!, 14 April 2011
I hate to break ranks with the other reviewers but this really is the single most annoying phone that I have ever owned!

Ok, so it does what a mobile ought to do: you can make calls, send texts, take photos and access the web. But, to be honest, that's pretty much the minimum I expect these days.

What drives me to absolute distraction is a basic design fault: the radio on-off switch and the camera shutter switch are both located on the main body of the phone and are NOT de-activated when you lock the keypad. This means that whenever you pick the phone up you either turn on the radio or take a photo of your hand.

It gets worse. The radio switch is right on the front of the slider and is so sensitive that it's impossible to keep the phone in your trouser pocket because any movement you make - standing up, sitting down, getting into the car, getting out of the car or simply walking down the street - will trigger a startling blast of radio static from your trouser leg until you fish the damn thing out, cursing the day you bought it, and turn it off again............taking another photo of your hand as you do so! I can't tell you how annoying this can become!

I only got this a couple of months ago but I've already had enough, so I'm off to Phones 4 You to get a replacement. You'll find my Nokia X3 on eBay but for goodness sake, don't buy it!
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 18, 2011 7:16 PM BST


Focus 3
Focus 3
Price: 11.99

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dutch Total Football Becomes Dutch Total Music, 11 Feb 2011
This review is from: Focus 3 (Audio CD)
It's about time I got around to reviewing this! 'Focus 3' is, for many fans, the album that best defines the Dutch band Focus. Along with 'Moving Waves' and (perhaps to a slightly lesser extent) 'Hamburger Concerto', it captures them at their most innovative and dynamic. Almost 40 years on, it still sounds genuinely progressive.

Recorded in the summer of 1972, its background is interesting***. Bands at the time (especially prog bands, a genre into which Focus fitted, albeit loosely) used to block-book months of studio time in which they could rehearse their intricate time signatures, grow their beards, overdub everything until they sounded like a 40-piece orchestra and generally go about the business of developing their tracks (for no self-respecting prog band recorded mere "songs") slowly and organically. Hell, they could spend days just getting the right vibe. In July 1972, however, Focus simply turned up, laid out their kit and tore the studio to shreds with some of the most astonishing virtuosity ever captured on vinyl. Taking just four days from start to finish, most of 'Focus 3' was recorded live in the studio; lots of it (including virtually all of Anonymous II) was improvised. These guys really were absolute masters at what they did and 'Focus 3' finds them at the top of their game.

As usual with Focus, 'Focus 3' synthesises a whole raft of musical ideas and influences - jazz, rock, classical, avante-gard, medieval - into a collection of pieces that are wholly original and refreshingly different. Opener 'Round Goes the Gossip...' begins with Pierre van der Linden's signature drum intro (as used on countless tv ads ever since) before building into a jazzy, impatient-sounding main section which is alleviated by a gossamer-light middle eight in which van Leer quotes from Homer's The Illiad (and why not?). Akkermans's dreamy, Debussy-esque 'Love, Remembered' is next, followed by the glorious 'Sylvia', an absolute masterpiece from van Leer and the hit single that broke them into the mainstream. 'Carnival Fugue' begins slowly (although I suppose there's a clue in the title) before progressing into a bright, summery, Hammond-driven wig out that perfectly captures the happy, playful side of their music.

If the first four tracks are outstanding it's the title track 'Focus 3' and 'Answers? Questions! Questions? Answers!' where the band really begin to pick up the pace and put some distance between themselves and their contemporaries. Both tracks were improvised within an overall framework and this allows all four of them to cut loose and show what they can do. But this never becomes improvisation just for the sake of it; melody and structure are never sacrificed and their virtuosity never becomes mere showing off. The key to great improvisation is the old jazz adage of 'take and build' and they do this without once falling into the enormous elephant trap labeled 'Self Indulgence'.

This creativity reaches its apotheosis in 'Anonymous II', a 26 minute epic which sprawled over two sides of the original vinyl release. A magnum opus version of 'Anonymous' from their first album, 'Anonymous II' was recorded live and in one take. All four of them take a turn in the spotlight before returning to the opening theme to close the song. The way they pass the baton from one to the other without missing a beat is a wonder to behold and if you think that a drum solo, let alone a bass guitar solo, can never be a joy to listen to, then wrap your ears around this. These four knew each others' music inside out and the spontaneous whoops and cheers in the background demonstrate just how much fun they were having.

And how do you top that? With a spot of medieval lute music, of course! Akkerman's preoccupation with the English countryside, and in particular his love of Julian Bream, finds musical expression in 'Elspeth of Nottingham' which comes complete with birdsong to provide a lovely pastoral ending to the album.

As I suggested at the start, picking the definitive Focus album is a tricky business and although it's a close call, for my money it's probably 'Focus 3'. If Focus were best defined as the ultimate fusion band, then this is the ultimate fusion album. It contains everything that made Focus such a unique and inspirational musical force in the 1970s and which makes their music resonate so timelessly today. The individual talents on display are simply awesome: keyboardist and flautist Thijs van Leer was on an incredible roll as a composer, Jan Akkerman alternates between blistering fret-work and the lightest of touches, Bert Ruiter's bass is fluid and seamless and he and Pierre van der Linden combine to make one of the most intuitive rhythm sections in rock history.

Rather like the way the Dutch World Cup teams of the 1970s blew everyone away with their Total Football, Focus mix free-form expressionism and individual virtuosity into a joyous Total Music. For Cruyff, Neeskens, Rensenbrink and van der Kerkhoff, read Akkerman, van Leer, Ruiter and van der Linden. And, rather like Dutch football, music rarely got this good again.

***Ok, it's possibly only interesting if you're a 40-something bloke who remembers the glory days of 70s rock, but if you're reading this I assume that's you too!
Comment Comments (7) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 2, 2013 3:24 PM GMT


Beyond the Crash: Overcoming the First Crisis of Globalisation
Beyond the Crash: Overcoming the First Crisis of Globalisation
by Gordon Brown
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 20.00

204 of 306 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Not Me Guv!, 16 Dec 2010
Most books by politicians should be put into that odd category half way between fact and fiction. Although they make some claim to historical accuracy, their main aim is to present their author's case for the defence. Be warned: Gordon Brown has taken this to absurd lengths in 'Beyond the Crash.'

Even the title is misleading. 2008-10 was not the first crisis of globalisation: that was in 1929, when the Wall Street Crash led to the great depression. It was not even a global crisis anyway - the 'new' BRIC economies (Brazil, Russia, India, China) largely continued to grow, as did most of the 'old' economies too: Canada, Australia, Germany, most of non-eurozone Europe, etc. The UK was, in truth, one of the relatively few countries to get caught out.

So, why did that happen? Well, according to Brown, it was all the fault of the banks. They lent money on high-risk ventures and didn't tell Brown what they were doing. And that's it; the defence rests its case. 300 pages of charmless, densely-written verbiage can be distilled into three words: 'not me, guv!'

Brown doesn't mention, of course, that it was his job to find out what the banks were doing. But then again he doesn't mention a lot of things. For example, here are some of the things that Brown DOESN'T think caused the UK economy to come within 48 hours (as he claims at one point) of collapse: running a deficit every year from 2002; a reliance on the City to pay almost all the country's bills; incentive-destroying taxation; the creation of a welfare-dependent client state; the destruction of private sector pensions; his decision to replace a banking regulatory system that had worked for 300 years with his own 'light touch' version that failed immediately; 13 years of treating the UK economy as a short-term way of buying Labour votes with pork-barrel spending (particularly in Scotland and Wales) rather than as the long-term engine for national success.

I could go on, but you get the picture. None of the above gets mentioned; not even to allow him to defend them or to explain why he thought they were a good idea at the time. Brown's culpability for the near-collapse of the economy is air-brushed out of this 'history' as completely as he seems to have air-brushed it out of his own mind. Instead, we get the well-worn spin of how Brown saved the world from financial meltdown by coming up with the idea (on a plane back from Washington, or so he claims) of recapitalising the banks. Except, of course, that he didn't; all he did was copy the Swedish government's response, up-scale it and claim to have invented it himself. As a short-term expedient it was as good as any other (although it has ultimately saddled the taxpayers with a 1.3 trillion debt); as a coherent world-wide solution it was quietly abandoned within weeks of being announced at the G20 Summit in London in 2009.

So, even by the usual standards of a politician's book, 'Beyond the Crash' is partisan and self-serving - a cheap, dishonest little book written by a cheap, dishonest little man. At least in their memoirs Major, Thatcher and Blair admit to making mistakes; furthermore, they all recognise how the Law of Unintended Consequences acted on their Premierships. But not Brown. Not even once. The only version of events he wants us to believe is the one in which he was right and everybody else was wrong, every time. It was all the iceberg's fault for crashing into the Titanic; the Captain says so himself. (And, incidentally, talking of Blair, he's mentioned only once in passing while Mandelson - Brown's Business Secretary and effectively the Deputy PM throughout all of this - doesn't get a mention at all. So not only did Brown save the world, he did it single-handedly. What a guy!)

As I said at the start, most books by politicians fall between fact and fiction. 'Beyond the Crash', however, plays so fast and loose with the truth that it should be filed under 'Fantasy'.

PS. I ought to say a bit about Brown's prose style. Well, it's not as bad as his handling of the economy but he's no writer. Think of him announcing the latest tractor production statistics to the Kirkaldy and Cowdenbeath Chamber of Commerce and you'll get the idea.
Comment Comments (46) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 25, 2013 5:04 AM BST


The American Century: People, Power and Politics - An Illustrated History
The American Century: People, Power and Politics - An Illustrated History
by Harold Evans
Edition: Paperback

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good but not quite great, 9 Nov 2010
Given the subject matter this book is bound to be endlessly fascinating and, for the most part, it is. The photographs are stunning, providing a compelling visual portrait of the USA as it grew from a sparsely populated, inward-looking country with a largely agricultural economy to the world's number one, undisputed superpower.

You'll sense the "but" hanging over that sentence, and it may be a quibble but it's something I did begin to find a bit annoying. Evans is an unreconstructed old lefty who clearly missed the last helicopter out of the 1960s and his political bias is evident too often here; in his choice of subject matter, the relative coverage given to various events, his overall editorial judgment. You could be forgiven for thinking that Vietnam and the Civil Rights movement were the only things that happened in the States in the 1950-60s; no record economic growth, no consumer boom, no rock'n'roll. Similarly, obscure left wing politicians get blanket coverage while the entire NASA space programme, from John Glenn via the Apollo moon landings to the Space Shuttle, is dismissed in two photographs. If you came to this book knowing nothing of the USA, you sure would come away with a pretty odd view of it.

But in the end even Evans' tiresome left-wing posturing can't ruin a story this good, so even if it's not quite up there with its companion volumes 'The Russian Century' and 'The German Century', it's still well worth 10 of anyone's money.


Blue Bird Years: Donald Campbell and the Pusuit of Speed: Donald Campbell and the Pursuit of Speed
Blue Bird Years: Donald Campbell and the Pusuit of Speed: Donald Campbell and the Pursuit of Speed
by Arthur Knowles
Edition: Paperback
Price: 8.94

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Eyewitness Account of Campell on Coniston, 17 Aug 2010
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This is an excellent book which combines Arthur Knowles' "With Campbell on Coniston" (published in 1967 and long out of print) with Graham Beech's more recent account of the recovery and restoration of Bluebird K7.

Knowles spent the winter of 1966-67 as an informal member of Donald Campbell's team as he made his last, and fatal, attempt to raise his own world water speed record to 300mph. Like most people who met him, Knowles clearly fell under "the Skipper"'s charismatic spell but this book is far from a hagiography; it's a frank and lucid account of the day-to-day frustrations Campbell experienced as he waited for the weather to clear, or the engine to perform, or the right water conditions to make a record attempt. These endless, tedious delays were punctuated by the breathtaking excitement of Campbell opening Bluebird's taps on the few occasions when the conditions were right, and here you get an eyewitness account of what made the waiting worthwhile: the stunning sight of Bluebird racing across the lake and the extraordinary guts of the restless, quixotic man strapped into her cockpit.

His account is bookended by Beech's introduction and a lengthy epilogue. The epilogue contains a detailed technical analysis of what caused Bluebird to crash as well as a particularly affecting summary of her final run by Ken Norris, Bluebird's chief designer. It concludes with the coroner's report into Campbell's death and an update on progress on K7's restoration.

Beech does an excellent job of marshaling the facts surrounding Bluebird's crash and the final chapters are a great complement to Knowles' account. Together they make a fascinating read and a memorable contribution to the literature on the life and death of Donald Campbell.


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