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The Dark Stuff: Selected Writings on Rock Music 1972-1993
The Dark Stuff: Selected Writings on Rock Music 1972-1993
by Nick Kent
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.99

4.0 out of 5 stars The losers and the survivors, 19 May 2015
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The first half of this book concerns itself with those who, either by dint of their essential personality or by succumbing to drink and (especially) drugs, died at a very young age or simply never recovered from the trials of their psychological damage. So we get insights into the likes of Brian Wilson, Syd Barrett, Johnny Thunders, Jerry Lee Lewis and Brain Jones.
The book then covers those artists who survived against all the odds such as Iggy Pop (who gets numerous articles), Keith Richards, Shane McGowan, Neil Young and Lou Reed.
Finally we get some insights into a few angry young men (no women appear at all) such as Morrissey and Elvis Costello.
The author is well placed to write these stories by virtue of both being present and partaking of various substances himself - although he seemed more often than not to know when to stop!
There are some depressing traits that all the above seem to have in common such as anger, incredible levels of irresponsibility (to themselves and others), self-hate and a real drive to prove the world wrong. I would have really liked Kent to have offered the reader some insights as to whether or not he thought these ubiquitous traits were necessary in the creation of the music. Indeed, the weakness in this book is that Nick Kent doesn't seem to offer any judgements about any of the appalling events covered in this book - although I can see that some people may see that as a strength.
Having said that, this is probably as good a book about the dark side of rock and roll as we are likely to get.

The Atlantic Ocean: Essays on Britain and America
The Atlantic Ocean: Essays on Britain and America
by Andrew O'Hagan
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £20.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant writer with a dark view of modern day UK and USA., 10 May 2015
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This is a book of O'Hagan's essays focusing on Britain, America and the relationship between the two. He is both a stylish and penetrating writer whose subjects include the death of James Bulger, celebrity memoirs, Michael Jackson, Hurricane Katrina, waste disposal and begging. You probably get the idea from this list that the book is not a happy-go-lucky read, and you would be right; this is a book that makes you think.
That's not to say it is not without its lighter moments such as when writing about his determination, whilst growing up in football made Glasgow, to hate our national game. His article on witnessing the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is made hilarious in places by the dialog between the two volunteers he travels with to and from New Orleans.
The essay that first got O'Hagan noticed was, according to the liner notes of my copy of the book, The Killing of James Bulger, and it is easy to understand why. His view is a challenging one that invites us to query the treatment of the two young perpetrators, and also to suggest that their crime, whilst horrific, is probably not as isolated as case as we would like to believe.
O'Hagan is an intelligent writer well worth giving of your time.

Being Good: A Short Introduction to Ethics
Being Good: A Short Introduction to Ethics
by Simon Blackburn
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.80

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, but also out under a different title, 27 April 2015
I think Simon Blackburn is one of our best popularisers of philosophy. This book provides insights into the practical problems around how we lives our lives, and as such is an excellent introduction to this subject. I have just one warning: The OUP has a book called ETHICS by the same author, as part of its A Very Short Introduction series, the inside of which says "This book, previously published as Being Good ...". So, if you already have that book, then you don't need this one.

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: £13.12

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
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: £13.48

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: £22.90 - £29.50

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

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
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)
Price: £11.34

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.

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