Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Books, music

The other side of the 80s – Ben Vendetta’s Wivenhoe Park review

By Stefano on December 3rd, 2013

wiv park

Personally I am with Jarvis Cocker, who takes the view that 80s were quite possibly the worst decade to be young in post war Britain. AIDS, Thatcherism, looming nuclear apocalypse, Stock, Aitken and Waterman – boy did we suffer.

Still there was some great music made in the 80s and almost none of it made by fellas in frilly shirts, angular haircuts and synthesisers. Well in my opinion anyway.

And if you always prefered The Psychedelic Furs and The Bunnymen to A Flock of Seagulls and Erasure you’ll probably really enjoy Wivenhoe Park, the debut ‘novel’ by American writer and record label supremo Ben Vendetta.

I place novel deliberately in speech marks, because this is clearly the autobiography of an anglophile American who in the middle of his University career swapped Detroit for the delights of, umm Colchester.

Exchange students…

During the 80s I met quite a few exchange students from across the pond.Most tended to be ultra conservative types decked out in crisply ironed chinos and pastel Ralph Lauren shirts, who mainly frequented the library rather than the bar as they were saving money for the big end of term blitz in Paris or Rome.

There were however a few who didn’t fit the template, and these tended to be serious students of British indie music, whose passion for Psychocandy and Wilder had propelled them across the Atlantic to provincial British towns like Reading and in my instance, Lancaster. They were lovely people too and I regret the fact that I have lost touch with almost all of them.

Ben Vendetta was clearly a member of the latter group and Wivenhoe Park charts his, oops sorry, Drew’s journey from Michigan based runner and chaser of teenage goth girls through to inhabitant of the Brutalist paradise that is the university of Essex in Colchester.

This is classic coming of age stuff. Drew makes friends, hangs out with bands, dates inappropriate girls, takes drugs and whole lot more. But what makes Wivenhoe Park such a joy is that Ben writes in a very engaging way. In particular Drew isn’t your average John Hughes-esque teen novel fodder (I still haven’t forgiven him for what he did to Ducky at the end of Pretty In Pink) . Sure does he stupid things and yes he makes mistakes, especially with the ladies, but he is also, smart, funny and blessed with a Forrest Gump style aptitude to be present at key moments in British indie history.

The Indie Forrest Gump

So he catches Bobby Gillespie on the verge of jettisoning the Mary Chain to indulge his Byrds fantasies in Primal Scream. He hangs out in the Hacienda in its awful mid 80s period, and even spots a Manc gothy band who would one day go on to make the seminal album that even 25 years on still, kind of defines the city. Along the way there are cameos from all sorts of indie chancers from The Cure through to Modern English, and even seminal Medway garage punksters The Dentists. Then there are his wonderful ruminations on the lyrics of his heroes too. Ben’s take on the title of the third Psychedelic Furs album really will make you smile. Sure it all sounds a bit trainspottery, but the quality of the prose means that you don’t have to be have been a fully fledged Anorak clad shambler to enjoy it

Ultimately you are left wondering exactly how much of what ben has written is true. Not that it really matters. If you ever enjoyed High Fidelity, went to a British University in the mid 80s or are counting the days until Cherry Red reissues the legendary C86 compilation (as a two disc set!) you’ll love this.

Books, music

Psych round up: Wicked Whispers, Bill Ryder Jones, Scott Walker

By Stefano on April 25th, 2013


The Wicked Whispers were named as one of the bands to watch for in 2013 by this fella – and he strikes me as a man with excellent musical taste. So I wonder now if the Everton dressing room is resounding to the sounds of the new Wicked Whispers single Voodoo Moon.

It’s another Doors meets The Zombies keyboard driven gem this time with very spooky vocals and a really strange video. It is out today as a limited edition single and a download.

Listen too for the band’s two previous tunes – Amanda Lavender nails the darker side of sixties Brit psych brilliantly and Dandelion Eyes was Shindig’s single of the year last year – and that lot should know!

Also hailing from the north west is Bill Ryder Jones who you may remember was once of The Coral but a couple of years ago put out an excellent soundtrack style album If. He is back with an Eliot Smith/Ed Harcourt style singer songwriter album A Bad Wind Blows In Your Heart that in parts is amazing. You’re Getting Like Your Sister is a beautifully crafted minor key ballad that sounds like it would well have been an orphan from Figure 8. He Took You In His Arms is another absolute gem. In fact it feels like almost all of the best tracks on the albums are saved to the end.

Finally with six books about Scott Walker already on my shelf – four of which have come out in the last two years – I thought there was very little left to say about the genius 60s icon turned avant garde troubadour.

Well Paul Woods’ The Curious Life and Words of Scott Walker, which has just come out via Omnibus, is well worth a read. It is beautifully written, features plenty of new information about the star’s early days and some new pics too. Best of all, Woods is clearly a fan of Walker’s much maligned- though actually rather superb IMO – Til the Band Comes In album. You can get it here.

Books, music

Rock and Roll Is Dead – ace new Twitter inspired novel from Steve Lawson

By Stefano on March 25th, 2013


If you are a serious bass player chances are that you’ll know the name of Steve Lawson. Over the years he has written countless articles about his beloved instrument, recorded a series of acclaimed albums, and via social media, delivered some very interesting perspectives on the future of the music industry. He has fascinating views on Spotify.

So we have high hopes for his debut novel which he has just released via Leanpub on a ‘pay what you can tarrif.’

Written in 2009 Rock and Roll Is Dead is the story of a band who realise they’ve missed everything their younger selves ever dreamed of by getting stuck in a cycle of pub gigs, wedding gigs and functions. Initially working on the assumption that ‘this is what we’ll do til we make it’, their dreams turn to a fairly grim reality and they finally decide to do something about it.

But this is more than just story of rock and roll ne’er do wells, Lawson suggests that it is something of a fictional ‘new music manifesto’ adding that

‘Almost all of the individual events in the book are based in truth, and the conversations that the band are having with people on twitter all actually happened.’

It is available now from here.

Books, features, music, Style

Is this the last word on Mod? Richard Weight’s MOD: A Very British Style on its way

By Stefano on January 30th, 2013

mod_weightAnd yes that cover looks great too. The images were taken by ace photographer Dean Chalkley who has lots of images of contemporary mods (and a film too – see the bottom of the page) on his site here.

Anyway back to the book. There have been plenty of Mod books before, but this looks like being a fairly definitive one for a number of reasons.

Firstly, it looks like it is going to properly tackle Mod history and its greater influence on popular culture in a way that other books haven’t. It is a moot point, for example, whether the real inheritors of the Mod tradition in the 1980s were the Acid House mob at the end of the decade (they took pills and danced all night), the C86ers (they had the bowl cuts and loved the 60s music) or the Casuals (whose clothes were more in keeping with traditional sharp mod values and tended to be more working class like the original Mods).

Without pre-guessing what Weight is going to write in his book I think he will make the case that Mod influenced them all. And that’s a story that hasn’t really been written in any depth.

Besides the Mod movement is very diverse at the moment – as this ‘What Type of Mod are you?’ post illustrates.

The  second reason why the book looks great is that Richard Weight is a very accomplished author. I read his Patriots book over a decade ago, and although I don’t remember too much about it now, I recall being impressed by both the depth of his research, and also the way he wasn’t afraid to fire off his opinions. The book looks at national identity in Britain between 1940 and 2000 and the decline of British-ness in favour of stronger associations of  being English, Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish. It really needs an update too and I’d be fascinated to read his views on the way that The Olympics, the popularity of The Monarchy and immigration have all fueled a revival of Britishness. Yet at the same time we could be just years away from Scotland leaving the Union.

In many ways too there hasn’t been a better time for the Mod book. Bradley Wiggins is still everywhere, heritage brands like Ben Sherman and Fred Perry are back in the limelight and there are plenty of bands who are creating music that has 60s influences at their heart.

The Who touring Quadrophenia a few months after the book launch should help too.

Anyhow, I am very excited by the book’s arrival and if you want to know more here’s the blurb from the publishers.

It is published at the end of March and will cost £25 for a hardback edition.

Welcome to the world of the sharp-suited ‘faces’. The Italianistas. The scooter-riding, all-night-dancing instigators of what became, from its myriad sources, a very British phenomenon.

Mod began life as the quintessential working-class movement of a newly affluent nation – a uniquely British amalgam of American music and European fashions that mixed modern jazz with modernist design in an attempt to escape the drab conformity, snobbery and prudery of life in 1950s Britain. But what started as a popular cult became a mainstream culture, and a style became a revolution.

In Mod, Richard Weight tells the story of Britain’s biggest and most influential youth cult. He charts the origins of Mod in the Soho jazz scene of the 1950s, set to the cool sounds of Charlie Parker and Miles Davis. He explores Mod’s heyday in Swinging London in the mid-60s – to a new soundtrack courtesy of the Small Faces, the Who and the Kinks. He takes us to the Mod-Rocker riots at Margate and Brighton, and into the world of fashion and design dominated by Twiggy, Mary Quant and Terence Conran.

But Mod did not end in the 1960s. Richard Weight not only brings us up to the cult’s revival in the late 70s – played out against its own soundtrack of Quadrophenia and the Jam – but reveals Mod to be the DNA of British youth culture, leaving its mark on glam and Northern Soul, punk and Two Tone, Britpop and rave.

This is the story of Britain’s biggest and brassiest youth movement – and of its legacy. Music, film, fashion, art, architecture and design – nothing was untouched by the eclectic, frenetic, irresistible energy of Mod.

Books, features

The US State with a Union Jack in its flag, the war in which we didn’t fight but grew vegetables and other weird episodes from British Imperial history

By Stefano on January 25th, 2013

As everyone in the UK knows there was once a time when the Union Jack flew in many, many places across the world.

Now, a website about style, football and gadgets isn’t really a  place for too many value judgements on the British Empire. Suffice to say that we did some good things, but we also inflicted an awful lot of damage too in subjugating, and occasionally wiping out indigenous communities. Also the repercussions of the lines on the map that Britons drew lingers on in The Middle East, South America, parts of Africa and closer to home in Ireland.

However one hugely astonishing thing about the British is the way in which people of this sea-faring nation have been just about everywhere in the globe.

It was a thought that last year inspired historian Stuart Laycock to pen a fascinating book called All the Countries We’ve Ever Invaded. It is safe to say that the list that hasn’t had any British influence is a pretty short one and includes The Vatican, Monaco, Chad, Mongolia and Paraguay among others. Britain has in fact invaded nearly 90% of the countries in the world, so it isn’t that surprising that in some parts of the world we don’t have the best of reputations.

Questions about the nature of British Imperialism aside the book does throw up some amazing anecdotes about places that have been influenced by the British that almost no one in this country has a clue about.

For example what about the US state that has a Union Jack as part of its flag? Or the German island which we ran as a major holiday destination for much of the nineteenth century? Or the Scandinavian country that we kind of ‘invaded’ so we could use one of its islands as a vegetable patch.

Here then are ten really great stories. Some are  inspired by the book , which if you love history really is a must purchase. I have also done some of research of my own and of course there are a couple of nods to Wikipedia, from whence many of the images came.

So without further ado let’s head for Heligoland.

Buy the book here.

4 Minorca

Picture 4 of 10
Picture 4 of 10

I have this theory that Britain should do a deal to buy a couple of Canary Island from Spain. Then each winter some UK residents would get a free February Winter holiday on the islands. It might sound pricey to send people there but it would save the NHS billions as it would make us happier and healthier. Perhaps we should have clung on to the island of Minorca - that jewel of the Balearic Islands which is located in the Mediterranean Sea and these days belongs to Spain. After all we tried very very hard to keep it. We first took the place in 1708 during the War of the Spanish Succession. We were still running the place a decade or so later establishing Port Mahon as the island's main naval base. The Spanish booted us out in 1756, but we got sovereignty back a few years later. The islands then went back and forth between us and the Spanish until Spain finally took total control in 1802. Ironically when the French tried to invade during the Napoleonic War it was the Brits, who were allied to the Spaniards, who protected the islands.


New books for Smiths/Morrissey obsessives – Morrissey International Airport and an updated Mozipedia

By Stefano on November 19th, 2012

There was a time when stalking pop stars was largely the preserve of oddballs with way too much time and money on their hands. Not any more though for in among the Japanese super fans and Scandi wouldbe groupies you are probably going to meet someone looking for material to turn into a book. Step forward Dickie Felton who has just issued an intriguing new tome called Morrissey International Airport.

The premise is fairly simple. Dickie follows the iconic last great pop star across the globe taking in ten concerts in five countries. This however isn’t just some dull set of gig reviews. The most fascinating part of the story are the words of the super fans Dickie meets along the way. Like Margaret from Fresno who travelled 5,000 miles for a handshake. And Manchester teen, Curtis, who manages 27 concerts in barely a year? Are they sane functioning individuals who are just living out their dreams? Or just the modern day equivalent of pigeon fanciers or bird watchers? Is there something specific about Morrissey that attracts this kid of devotion? Actually we already know the answer to that one. The book is available from here for £11.

As someone who is more than a little partial to the music of The Smiths, and who would include Vauxhall and I in his list of favourite albums ever, I am also rather excited by the arrival of the latest version of Mozipedia.

Originally issued in 2009 this huge tome from the pen of Simon Goddard is a Moz obsessives dream in that it takes apart all of the films, bands and writers who made the be-quiffed man he is today. It is a superb read, though beware. If you are anything like me it is sure to get you spending hours on YouTube looking for Italian Eurovision singers. It has been out for month or so and is available in a paperback edition for £10.49. There is a Kindle version too.

Finally check out this. Raid 71 aka as Chris Thornley is a graphic designer who has produced a series of Penguin type book covers based on Morrissey/Smiths lyrics. They are gorgeous to look at and you can but a few of them as posters here.

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