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Owning Up: The Trilogy Paperback – 27 Jul 2006
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About the Author
George Melly was born in 1927. He made his name in the jazz revival scene of the late 40s and 50s, singing with Mick Mulligan's band. In the 60s he became one of the UK's most ubiquitous critics, writers and TV personalities. He has published a great number of books, including four volumes of autobiography: Owning Up (1965), Rum, Bum and Concertina (1977), Scouse Mouse (1984) and Slowing Down (2005). Today he can be found singing with the trumpeter Digby Fairweather. In 2004 he was honoured with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the BBC's Jazz Awards.
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"Scouse Mouse", Melly's account of his middle-class childhood in 1930s Liverpool, is an affectionate, evocative and vivid look at a vanished world - and that vanished quality accounts for its fascination. It's rich in detail and full of sharp, often very funny, pen portraits of his family, friends and, most memorably, teachers. It also captures the actual feel of childhood, the intense inner life and the utter mystery of the adult world, with remarkable success.
"Rum, Bum and Concertina" is an extended exercise in demonstrating how to minimise the impact of national service on a rampant sex life and immersion in the London art scene. The most salacious of the three books, it's like a weird hybrid of "In Which We Serve" and "The Satyricon", and makes you think that "The Lord of The Rings Trilogy" could serve as an alternative title for this collection, if you get my drift.
Which leads us to the masterpiece, "Owning Up", a "been-there, seen-that, knee-trembled the scrubber" first-person account of the British trad jazz scene in the 1950s, and the only jazz memoir I would wholeheartedly recommend to someone with absolutely no interest in jazz. Why? Because it's so frequently, consistently and scabrously funny, It's a masterclass in what you could almost call hilarious character assassination, except there is considerable affection for all those Melly has in his sights - and he is as harshly funny about himself as he is about anyone else. Jazz memoirs are all too frequently afflicted by self-pity, anger, vagueness and mysticism. None of those put in an appearance here. Jazz memoirs are often remarkably humourless. This is one of the funniest books I've ever read.
You could buy this on the strength of "Owning Up" alone, but the other two books also have great, if differing, qualities, and buying the in-one trilogy has to be a better option than buying any of them as a single title. And buy it you should.
This book is good value in that it is - really - three books for the price of one. The first covers his childhood, the second his national service days and the third his role in the early British jazz scene.
Childhood is not a part of life I am interested in mostly and George's upper middle class upbringing seems unpromising. He even went to a low-rent public school, but the charm of the man brings you through. Nevertheless there is a little too much detail about furniture and buildings for my liking. Maybe if you are more familiar with Liverpool you can get more out of it. Humour is never far away, never more so than in episodes about the long closed Liverpool Zoo.
(Foreign readers might also be puzzled by the casual violence of the public school system. This - I can assure them - was very true.)
His (national service) navy days are really about mad/sad/bad people who he encounters and works with. At one stage considering joining up for real. Like a lot of this book it is really about people, because not a lot happens in the Hollywood sense of the word. Indeed a lot of his early navy days didn't even involve casting to sea!
And finally to the world of jazz. The same greasy spoon, cold railway station, theatrical digs, petty arguments, fights over money and good-gig-bad-gig rigmarole which remains unchanged to this day. Hardly a star he seems more interested in lifestyle (the pleasure of drinking while "others are working") than fame and fortune.
Generally George doesn't give himself a lot of credit. The joke is often on him and it is sexually frank without delving in to physical detail. His floating sexuality remains unexplained and unexplored. George is - in this regard - retrospective light. Things just happen, he seems to say.
I'd recommend this book to any liberal reader who wants to have a light-hearted and funny tour of times gone by. Kept me such good company that I might well read it again one day.
The three books in this compendium take you through George's childhood, his life in the Navy (he loved the bell bottoms!) and his life as a young jazzer, on the road with 'Mick the Mulligan'.
The books are honest, clever and at times, tearfully funny. Nothing has made me laugh more for a long time than the letter written to young George by his perplexed landlord regarding his tenant's thoughtless behaviour, freeloading mates and general fornicating - utterly priceless!
Go for it! Give it a read; there aren't too many literary efforts of this quality about.
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