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Our Billie
Our Billie
by Ian Clayton
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliantly written and, at times, almost too painful to read, 6 April 2015
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This review is from: Our Billie (Paperback)
I've previously read Ian Clayton's excellent book on his love of the blues, "Bringing it all back home". The book has one of the most devastatingly sad endings to any book I've ever read; the tragic drowning of his beloved Billie. This is the book he then wrote about Billie, including the events of that terrible day.
Ian Clayton is a wonderful writer with a real gift for letting the reader into his social and private world. But, beware dear reader, his skill is such that you may, like me, find this an incredibly painful read (I'm half way through). As someone with a (now gown-up) daughter I found it very easy to at least imagine a fraction of what the author and his family have gone through, and have found it tough going. Personally I can only read this book in stretches of 15-20 minutes, by which time I need an emotional break.
However, if finding out what a loving father and husband can deal with and (largely) overcome, then you will appreciate this brilliant book.
I have no idea how he managed to sit down a write it, but perhaps it has helped him with his recovery - I hope so - and also kept his daughter's legacy alive.
A truly touching book that will make you pause and probably cry a few times. It will also make you treasure your own family all the more. No bad thing.
I hope the Claytons are doing OK.

Hidden Seam
Hidden Seam
Price: £7.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Folk meets Bjork meets Kate Bush., 26 Mar. 2015
This review is from: Hidden Seam (Audio CD)
She's not a huge name, and given her somewhat quirky style, she may never be, but don't let that put you off. Although I have over a thousand CDs in my collection, and have owned this one for over a year now, this little beauty keeps finding its way onto my CD player. And it really is a beauty. But, what I think makes this a particularly standout release is its originality; Lisa Knapp probably sounds like nothing else you've heard before (although the title of this review tells you where I think she's coming from). Furthermore, she is joined/supported on this release by some of folks outstanding current crop; James Yorkston, Martin Carthy, Alasdair Roberts and Kathryn Williams. I think that says a lot about what her contemporaries think of this artist too.
However, none of that means a jot to my taste unless there is a voice to match, and thankfully there is; LK has a wonderfully original voice that does remind me quite a lot of Bjork, and no bad thing.
Very very highly recommended.

Diversions, Vol. 1: The Songs of Robert Wyatt and Antony & The Johnsons- Live from the Union Chapel, London
Diversions, Vol. 1: The Songs of Robert Wyatt and Antony & The Johnsons- Live from the Union Chapel, London
Price: £9.00

4.0 out of 5 stars Progressive Folk, 1 Mar. 2015
I saw The Unthanks a couple of night's ago Nottingham and found them to be compelling performers. In some ways they come across as unprepossessing personalities; until the music starts that is, when things get very serious. The headline of this review seems to me to be right in that they capture some of the spirit of progressive music from the 70s with their sense of adventure and experimentation mixing their folk roots with jazz and classical (with the added bonus that the lyrics are concerned with subjects other than wizards and the like!). At least that's how it seems to me, and ultimately this makes them very exciting to listen to. Long may they continue to expand their horizons.

Highlander Tempest Waterproof Trousers
Highlander Tempest Waterproof Trousers
Price: £19.27 - £29.73

5.0 out of 5 stars The fact is, they are waterproof!, 26 Feb. 2015
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For the money these are an absolute bargain. I don't know how they'd fare up in the mountains with the rain pouring all day, but I've just got back from 2 hours walking my dogs in heavy rain in my local fields and woods and I've come back completely dry. Material is pretty heavy duty, but not to the degree that you notice when you are wearing them. Zips at the bottoms look pretty tough too. Recommended.

Why Believe?
Why Believe?
by John Cottingham
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars For the believer and non-believer alike, 22 Jan. 2015
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This review is from: Why Believe? (Hardcover)
I read this book as a non-believer with an interest in trying to understand the nature and reasons for having faith/belief. John Cottingham has written a very readable and even handed justification for faith that, it seems to me on one reading (it probably deserves another), rests on the premise that some of our emotional responses to the world cannot be satisfactorily explained by science. Cottingham argues that responses and attitudes such as awe, humility and love are best understood in the context of a transcendent God. Furthermore, life is all the richer for living with the belief of such a benevolent being.
Cottingham does seem to know his science and so overall I found this a very balanced and fair book that succeeds in engaging with both the reader who agrees and disagrees with his position. This is no small achievement given the aggressive polemics that can be found on both sides of this argument.
Personally he hasn't changed my own view, but I have gained a greater understanding of how belief in a transcendent interventionist God can be a rational option for how to live.

Storytone (Deluxe Version)
Storytone (Deluxe Version)
Offered by Crawley Music
Price: £10.71

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hits a sweet spot, 5 Nov. 2014
If you like your Neil Young in a mellow mood then this is for you.
Also, if you can afford to go for the deluxe version then I'd recommend you do because it is fascinating to hear the solo versions in comparison to those with full orchestra. Sometimes the orchestra is full-on sweeping strings which is something that Neil has only used very sparingly in the past, and at other times there is a punchy brass section that turns the solo versions into something more strident.
It is difficult to ignore the meaning of the lyrics from some of the upheavals of his personal life in recent times; but it is not always easy to tell whether they are directed at his current beau or his recently divorced wife. Overall this feels like a very personal document from Neil, as was the case with Prairie Wind which I loved and think is as close to this release as anything that has followed. Some of the lyric, tunes and delivery seem to me to be some of the sweetest Neil has ever produced. I think he's definitely mellowing with age, and it shows here.
Overall this is a very consistent set of songs from Neil, with "I'm glad I found you" an early standout for me.
As another reviewer has already pointed out, Neil's voice is showing signs of age, but in the context of these songs it is a thing of beauty that fully captures the emotions.
Welcome to yet another twist in the journey of Neil Young; a man who continues to try out new things, never stand still, bring us new music.

Bedsit Disco Queen: How I grew up and tried to be a pop star
Bedsit Disco Queen: How I grew up and tried to be a pop star
by Tracey Thorn
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

5.0 out of 5 stars Great book from and even greater but modest singer, 11 Sept. 2014
I think this is about as good as it gets as a memoir of life in and out of the music business. Tracey Thorn is blessed with a beautiful voice that in some ways meant that her decision to become a DIY musician, at a time when such things were both possible and looked up to, was likely to result in fairly rapid success. And indeed success did come at an amazingly young age. However, TT is a very articulate and intelligent feminist in what is very much a man's world and so, despite her success, she frequently felt herself compromised by how the "business" tried to portray her (stroppy, difficult, miserable, past it etc.). The constant changes in musical direction taken by her and Ben Watt also meant that together as Everything But The Girl they struggled to keep a large enough loyal fan base and eventually led to them being dropped by their label - just as Todd Terry's remix of "Missing" is released. "Missing" went on to massive worldwide success with sales over 3 million copies!
A constant thread thro' the book is the fickle nature of being a pop star. Her career was also interrupted by Ben Watt's almost fatal illness and slow recovery, a return to academic study (an MA in English), and motherhood.
Despite her obvious talents as a singer and lyricist (every chapter ends with the lyrics from one of her songs illustrating just how autobiographical is her song writing) her story as a whole is portrayed as unremarkable. This is primarily because TT is very good at managing to come across as a level headed and quite ordinary (in the best sense of this word) mother, partner and friend.
Of all the different threads herein, I most enjoyed her attempt at anonymity after the birth of twin girls and a son. She herself is unclear as to how successful this all was; were other parents at the school gates genuinely unaware of her past life as a 'pop' star? This uncertainty is hilariously blown apart by George Michael (I wont spoil it for you by giving away any more).
An easy, rewarding and insightful read.

Waging Heavy Peace: A Hippie Dream
Waging Heavy Peace: A Hippie Dream
by Neil Young
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.49

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An insight into Neil Young the man, rather than Neil Young the musician, 31 Aug. 2014
This is not a literary work, but rather it seems to be an overview of what was occupying Neil Young at the time of writing (2012).
The style is very direct and conversational. In structure it is pretty much linear but it does jump about on occasions, but not so that the reader would get confused. I may be completely wrong here, but the book doesn't come across to me a something he has worked on and honed. It has the feel of a diary of reminiscences - but a diary that he knows others are going to read.
The whole of his life is covered but not in any great detail, and if you want the lowdown on his musical career this is not really place to find it.
However, if you hope to get a sense of what he is like as a person then I feel that is exactly what you will get. There's plenty of stuff that shows his geeky nature; detailed accounts of cars he has owned and restored, his train set (!), and in particular his (at the time of writing) current preoccupation with improving the available sound quality of music through his soon to be released Pono music player. Like lots of people, I don't share his particular interests (with the exception of Pono which I am looking forward to), but that is not really the point. If you want to get to know the man then that includes getting an insight into his particular obsessions (he admits to being an obsessive).
Along the way though there are some really quite touching references to people he has known and loved; most particularly his family, but also certain people in the music industry that have been very important (Ben Keith, David Briggs)
Possibly because he is now heading towards his twilight years, and he's had a number of health scares along the way, there is quite a bit of looking back and painting people in the most favourable light. To some these reflections may appear somewhat rose-tinted, but to me it comes across as generous spirited.
On the whole Neil seems a man who is happy with his lot, prepared to admit to past mistakes whilst claiming to have generally tried his best, and above all quite 'normal' and balanced.
I ended up really liking him and if that was his intention (I don't really think he gives a fig sometimes) then it worked.
I felt this book, as a fan, was well worth a read but as I've said, don't expect literature or real musical insights.

My Journey to Lhasa: The Classic Story of the Only Western Woman Who Succeeded in Entering the Forbidden City
My Journey to Lhasa: The Classic Story of the Only Western Woman Who Succeeded in Entering the Forbidden City
by Alexandra David-Neel
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Surprisingly easy read of an amazing journey by one very tough lady, 17 Aug. 2014
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I wont get into a debate about how much of this book is or isn't factual. My only wonder is, given that it covers a very long walk pretending to be a beggar on a pilgrimage to Lhasa in the company of her adopted son the lama Jongden, is just how did she record everything that is depicted in this book?
Setting that query aside though, this book tells a truly amazing story of how the author made her way from China all the way to the fabled Forbidden City of Lhasa. Although she wasn't the first westerner to get there (the British forces were in the country), her story is made all the more remarkable given the fact that she had to do her travelling in secret.
The book, despite its age (it was first published in 1927), is very readable. I found the descriptions of both the landscape and, in particular the people she meets along the way, both interesting and convincing.
Given the Shangri-La status in which Tibet is viewed today there is a fair amount of debunking contained within these pages. For example, not all Tibetans turn out to be peace loving, animal loving, caring and spiritual. Indeed along the way she comes across robbers, excessive violence/abuse and a great deal of superstition by the uneducated. Indeed the Tibetan propensity for superstition is used by the author and her companion to extricate themselves from some difficult circumstances.
However, despite the hardships and the unsavoury nature of some of the people she meets on her journey, Alexandra David-Neel is a lover and academic of all Tibetan culture and religion(s), and this comes across strongly. Additionally, and to me surprisingly, there is also the occasional sense of humour evident.
Well worth a read by anyone interested in the life of the ordinary peasants of Tibet before the country was opened up to external influences.

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: Written by Herself (American Slavery)
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: Written by Herself (American Slavery)
by Linda Brent
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.42

5.0 out of 5 stars A must read (review of the paperback, not Kindle), 27 July 2014
If you were like me and thought you had an idea what the life of a slave must have been like, then think again and read this!
I understood that slaves were bought and sold by rich whites to work on their estates in order to maximise profit. In my ignorance I did not appreciate, until reading this book, the extent to which a slave was actually completely and utterly owned. That ownership was absolute and extended to the offspring of women slaves also, so there was a never ending supply of slaves into the future. It was shocking to find out that a slave owner left their slaves to their offspring in their will in EXACTLY the same way as we leave objects of worth such as a home to ours. This meant that a slave who had worked for decades for a mistress could, on the death of that mistress, find herself the slave of the deceased's daughter (who may be very young indeed, e.g. 3yrs old in one example in this book).
The book also tells of the torture and abuse that was systematically handed out to slaves with importunity by the 'civilised' whites.
For the most part the events of Harriet's life are told in a somewhat cool tone; you are told what happens, but she doesn't then pour over the emotional distress she feels, but leaves it for the reader to imagine. On occasions she comes across as extremely forgiving, understanding and genuinely sorry for some of the kinder slave owners who she felt were also being brutalised (emotionally at least) by this evil system.
This is, as everyone knows, an incredibly important book, and whilst the style may seem old fashioned to some, I found it an easy but always troubling read.

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